WASHINGTON — The field of candidates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is taking shape as at least six Republicans and Democrats gear up for the first competitive primaries for the seat in more than a decade.
On the Democratic side, powerful interest groups are already aligning with two contenders – Maine state Sens. Troy Jackson and Emily Cain – with similar political views but disparate styles and backgrounds. And two prominent Republicans – Kevin Raye and Bruce Poliquin – are busy raising money and building grassroots campaigns ahead of an election that is already “on the radar” of national groups.
“This is an open seat that is going to get national attention,” Poliquin said.
With six months to go before the primaries, there’s still time for people to join the race to fill the seat being vacated by six-term U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat with his sights set on the governor’s mansion next year.
But the Republican field may be set after one of the last rumored potential candidates, former state Sen. Richard Rosen of Bucksport, confirmed that he will not enter the race.
“The opportunity to represent my fellow Mainers in Washington, D.C., would be a great and solemn privilege, but I have come to recognize that my preference is to serve the state in a way that allows me to remain close to the people of Maine,” Rosen, who currently serves as director of Gov. Paul LePage’s Office of Policy and Management, said in a statement.
That leaves Raye, Poliquin and Blaine Richardson of Belfast as the only declared candidates.
Three Democrats have also filed paperwork registering as candidates: Cain, Jackson and political newcomer Alden Smith. A fourth potential candidate, Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, said Saturday that he is still weighing whether to join the race.
Although well known in his native Bangor area, Baldacci would clearly benefit from Democrats’ associations with his brother John, who occupied the 2nd District seat for eight years and was governor for eight. Joe Baldacci said he planned to make a decision by the end of the year.
“I have been warmly received by hundreds of people all across the Second District and across Maine, and I have been repeatedly asked to consider the race, so that is what I am going to do,” Baldacci said in a recent email.
The three declared Democratic candidates are already racking up miles as they canvass the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River.
Cain is an administrator and doctoral student at the University of Maine who, at age 34, already has a decade’s experience in state politics and a “rising star” label from an influential national political organization.
Jackson, a logger from Allagash, has the blue-collar credentials, rural roots and legislative experience that helped Michaud win over the 2nd District’s more conservative voters 11 years ago. An early endorsement from Maine’s largest labor union could help Jackson’s fundraising and ground game.
“I want to keep this as professional and as friendly as possible,” Jackson said of the campaign. “I think we have different styles and it is up to the people to decide which style they want representing them in Washington, D.C.”
Mike Cuzzi, a Maine Democratic strategist who has worked on state and national campaigns, said recently that he doesn’t expect to see many substantive differences on the policy side between the two. Instead, Cuzzi predicted differences of “strategy and execution” on similar political platforms.
“I think it has the potential to be a very close race,” Cuzzi said. “These are two very credible candidates, both coming out of prior positions of leadership in the Legislature and both enjoying strong support.”
Jackson and his supporters are portraying him as a politician made from the same mold as Michaud, a former mill worker. The Allagash resident will likely fare well with northern Mainers but will have to build name recognition from Bangor south and east.
A veteran legislator, Cain is well known in Penobscot County Democratic circles and has focused recently on picking up endorsements in Androscoggin County and western Maine. But Baldacci would likely compete with Cain for the Bangor-Orono area’s vote, if he joined the race.
Smith, meanwhile, is a former Navy submariner and current Naval Reserve officer from Sangerville making his first bid for political office. He trailed well behind the other two in fundraising as of the end of September but has assembled a campaign team.
“The campaign really started for me on Oct. 1st,” said Smith, who is pursuing a master’s degree in law and diplomacy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “Now that we are organized, we have really started our fundraising and outreach.”
Several early endorsements have already created a buzz in the Democratic race.
In early October, Cain scored a potential fundraising coup when she landed a full endorsement from EMILY’s List, a political action committee that spent more than $34 million during the 2012 election cycle to elect pro-choice Democratic women.
EMILY’s List maintains a roster of 2 million members who are potential donors. And fundraising ability will be important in the race, Cain predicted.
“There is no question this race is going to be a nationally targeted race because it is one of the few truly open seats in the country where it is not either blue or red,” Cain said.
Jackson landed a major endorsement of his own in October from the Maine AFL-CIO, which represents 30,000 members in 160 local unions. Union endorsements often lead to donations and campaign support from members who are willing to hand out pamphlets, knock on doors and make phone calls for a candidate.
On the opposite side of the political aisle, the National Republican Congressional Committee has already signaled its interest in Maine’s 2nd District race by listing both Poliquin and Raye among three dozen candidates nationwide who are “On the Radar.”
The designation signals that the NRCC could take a greater interest in the race after the June primaries, offering the eventual nominee both logistical support as well as direct and indirect financial assistance.
“There is no question they are interested in this race,” said Raye, a former Maine Senate president. “At this point, it’s the only open seat in New England going into the 2014 (election).”
Raye likely begins the 2014 race with stronger name recognition after having challenged Michaud for the 2nd District seat in 2012. A former chief of staff to retired Sen. Olympia Snowe, he runs his family-owned Raye’s Mustard Mill in Eastport with his wife, Karen.
In November, Raye’s campaign released an internal poll showing him with a 45-19 lead over Poliquin, with Richardson trailing behind at 5 percent. Raye also pointed out that more than 60 elected officials from the 2nd District – including state lawmakers and county commissioners – have endorsed his campaign.
“I have a proven track record of being able to get things done and doing it in a constructive fashion,” Raye said.
Raye is more moderate than Poliquin, a self-described conservative and outspoken former state treasurer under LePage. But Poliquin also has name recognition after having run statewide campaigns for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010 and the U.S. Senate in 2012.
In the money race, Poliquin reported raising more than $220,000 through the end of September, compared to roughly $90,000 raised by Raye. But unlike Raye’s, Poliquin’s official campaign website is still under construction.
Poliquin, who recently moved to Oakland from the 1st District town of Georgetown as he ramped up his congressional campaign, spent several decades in the financial sector before making his first major foray into politics with his largely self-financed gubernatorial bid in 2010.
In an interview, Poliquin pointed out that he has been endorsed by 32 state lawmakers and, in a peek at his campaign strategy, predicted that primary voters are looking for someone “who is not a career politician” with a lengthy career in business.
“We are working seven days a week and are thrilled with the grassroots support we are receiving,” Poliquin said.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: