News of Sen. Susan Collins’ decision not to run for governor in 2018 had barely hit the internet Friday before candidates in that race were electronically breathing sighs of relief or spinning her announcement into criticism of their opponents.

The Republican moderate’s decision casts wide open the Blaine House race, which already has drawn nine Democrats, three – soon likely to be four – Republicans, and four independent or third-party candidates. Collins, one of the Maine’s most popular politicians, won her last statewide victory in 2014 with nearly 70 percent of the vote. She was seen by many as virtually unbeatable had she decided to enter the race.

Moments after her announcement, the Maine Democratic Party used her decision to take aim at the Republican Party and its entire field of gubernatorial candidates.

“It doesn’t say much for the Maine Republican Party that Susan Collins would rather stay in Washington with a failed president and broken Congress than come home and face a field of far-right politicians hell-bent on pushing extreme policies,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said. “The Republican field of candidates now represents the fringe of the party, fighting one another for the mantle of who can make healthcare more expensive, who can line the pockets of the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, and who can divide Mainers the most. “

One of those Republican candidates, state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon, eagerly thanked Collins for her public service, saying that as governor, he would have a good working relationship with her.

“As a candidate to serve as Maine’s next governor, I am grateful that I will have a powerful ally in the U.S. Senate when I enter the Blaine House,” Mason said. “Working together, we can continue to put Maine families first.”

Republican candidates also in the race include former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew of South China and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport.

This week, former independent candidate for governor Shawn Moody, the owner of a chain of auto body repair shops, announced he was joining the Republican Party and said he also may seek the party’s nomination.

Mayhew said it made no difference to her whether Collins was in or out. “For me this has never been about her, it has always been about the fight for Maine’s future,” Mayhew said, “and that was going to be true whether she was in or out of the race.”

She also touted support she has from about 30 Republican state lawmakers. “It is broadly representative of the level of support I have and the momentum behind my campaign,” said Mayhew, the first Republican to enter the race.

Fredette offered a sharp rebuke to Bartlett, saying, “Thanks to the work of Democrats, Republicans have had to spend the last seven years fixing Maine’s economy.”

He said the state’s median income was climbing and Maine had moved up from 36th nationally to 33rd this year.

“We are at nearly full employment and Maine businesses are crying we need more workers because we don’t have enough,” Fredette said.

Fredette acknowledged that Collins would have been a “dominant force in the race and in that primary,” but said those who may have been waiting in the wings for Collins’ decision were not running for the right reasons and didn’t have a clear vision for where they wanted to take the state.

“But it’s going to be a very tough primary, a tough race no matter who is in the race,” Fredette said.

Democrats at the national level also saw Collins’ decision as a chance to castigate the Republican field in Maine, calling the candidates in the race “LePage wannabes and clones.”

“The Maine Republican primary is now just a bunch of LePage imitators,” said Jared Leopold, communications director for the Democratic Governors Association. “Mayhew, Mason, and Fredette were all instrumental in enacting the governor’s disastrous agenda, and Mainers have suffered. Without Collins, this primary will now be a full-on race to the right.”

But Garrett Murch, communications director for the Maine Republican Party, said Collins’ decision not to run didn’t mean Democrats were gaining ground in Maine.

“Nothing about Senator Collins’ decision makes Bartlett’s Democrats more popular,” Murch said. “Democrats have only one elected official above the state Senate level in the entire state. That he is crowing about Republican choices is a convenient distraction from the fact that Maine Democrats have lost to Collins four times, and to LePage twice in recent years.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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