Let the scramble begin.
When U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud announced Thursday that he is exploring a run for governor in 2014, the rumblings about possible candidates to fill his House seat became discernibly louder.
The political soul-searching over the next few weeks (or months) may not be on the same scale as when U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe shocked Maine in February 2012 by announcing she would not run for re-election. But political experts expect to see many names floated, from both political parties.
“If Michaud stays in the race for governor, it will certainly set off a scramble,” said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine. “That’s a district that could go Democrat or Republican, depending on the candidate.”
The biggest names on the Democratic side so far are:
• Emily Cain of Orono, a former state House minority leader and current state senator.
• Joe Baldacci, a Bangor city councilor who is the younger brother of former U.S. House member and Gov. John Baldacci.
• State Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash.
• Attorney General Janet Mills.
• Secretary of State and former U.S. Senate candidate Matt Dunlap.
On the Republican side, the list includes:
• Former state Sen. Richard Rosen of Bucksport.
• Former House Minority Leader Josh Tardy.
• State Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls.
• Former Senate President Kevin Raye, who twice ran unsuccessfully against Michaud.
Other names will emerge, and all of the potential candidates have been careful not to say too much, just in case Michaud decides to stay out of the governor’s race and keep his seat. Running for an open seat is much different from running against a six-term incumbent.
Cain said Thursday that Michaud would make an excellent candidate for governor, but she declined to discuss her own plans.
Cain has said in the past that she would be interested in running for Congress if Michaud did not.
Jackson said he is interested in running, but is focused on wrapping up a busy and increasingly contentious legislative session.
“You’ve got to do the job in front of you,” he said.
Dunlap, who lost a U.S. Senate primary to Cynthia Dill last year before being chosen by lawmakers as secretary of state, said he’s keeping his options open.
Joe Baldacci confirmed that he is “very interested.”
“I have great respect for all the names of potential candidates,” he said. “But I suspect that I’ll do what congressman Michaud has done and set up an exploratory committee.”
There is speculation that John Baldacci might try to run for his former seat in Congress, but he said Thursday, “My interest right now is back here in Maine. … I don’t have an interest in Washington at this point.”
A Democrat has represented Maine’s 2nd Congressional District since 1995. Michaud has held the seat since 2003. Before that, John Baldacci served four terms before stepping down to run for governor.
Of Maine’s two districts, the 2nd is much more conservative — Snowe held the seat from 1979 to 1995 before moving to the Senate — and Republicans like their chances in an open race.
Cary Weston, former Bangor city councilor who is well respected in the Republican Party, said he was a bit surprised that Michaud decided to explore a run.
“He’s been a conservative politician, not a risk taker,” Weston said. “And he’s in a comfortable seat at the moment.”
When Snowe made her announcement and Michaud briefly considered running for Senate, Weston said he would be interested in the U.S. House seat. This time he said he has no plans, but he predicted that both parties’ primaries will be robust.
As for Republicans who could fill Michaud’s seat, Weston mentioned Tardy and Rosen.
“I haven’t heard his name as much, but I think Peter Mills would be an excellent candidate,” Weston said. “He’s brilliant and he’s been undersold.”
Mills, a former state lawmaker and 2010 gubernatorial candidate, said Thursday, “I’m not really interested, but don’t fail to mention my name.”
Mills also predicted competitive primaries in both parties.
Mason, who is serving his second term in the state Senate, confirmed by email Thursday that he is “seriously considering a run.”
Raye, in a telephone interview, said he’s “keeping his options open.”
Tardy said he’s interested but not ready to make any decisions.
Weston said he fully expects a tea party or libertarian candidate to jump into the race on the Republican side.
In light of what happened during last year’s Maine Republican Party convention, when Ron Paul supporters were marginalized, Weston said, some have a sense that their voices are not being heard by the party establishment.
“Every name that is out there meets the standard of quality candidate,” said Brewer, at UMaine. “But it will really come down to name recognition and ability to raise money, which can be difficult in primaries.”
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: