Now that Susan Collins has revealed her decision to stay put in the U.S. Senate rather than make another run for the Blaine House, it’s worth taking a look at the entire field. Unlike in 2014, when neither party had a competitive primary, we’re going to see a large field on both sides – along with a couple of independents in the mix.

For the Republicans, there will be a monumental battle over who is the true heir to Gov. LePage’s legacy. Controversial though he may be, he hasn’t lost the support of his base, and is still a unifying figure to many Republican primary voters. A key member of his administration, former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, is largely running on this basis. However, despite her extensive governmental experience as an administrator and as a lobbyist, she’s never run for office before – and was a Democrat until a few years ago. She’ll have to explain her stances on a whole range of issues outside her purview at DHHS, like guns, abortion and taxes, as she runs for governor.

Sen. Garrett Mason, meanwhile, has always been a Republican, and seems to be drawing much of his support from social conservatives. As Senate majority leader, though, he’s been at the help of a caucus that at times seemed just as willing to pick fights with Gov. LePage as the Democrats were. With that legacy, he may have trouble winning over fiscal conservatives who don’t prioritize social issues. Moreover, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, who has already jumped into the race, may be chasing after many of the same votes. It will be interesting to see how they differentiate themselves through the primary.

Conversely, nobody has to question House Republican Leader Ken Fredette’s conservative credentials on virtually any issue. He’s effectively led his caucus in supporting the governor on a number of occasions, especially during the recent state budget negotiations. If Republicans want a reliable, reasonable, consistent conservative who doesn’t have to constantly reinvent himself, Ken Fredette would be an excellent choice.

If businessman Shawn Moody decides to run, he would seem to be a bit of a wildcard. He’s kept a relatively low profile politically since his single-digit showing as an independent in the 2010 gubernatorial race, but may have the chance to bring moderates and conservatives together. Of course, in order to win a hotly contested primary and a general, he’ll have to considerably up his game next year.

The Democrats, too, appear to have a variety of factions battling for control in their primary. Attorney General Janet Mills, the (presumed) front-runner at this point, would seem to be the choice of the party establishment. Unfortunately for her, there seem to be a number of people who are unhappy with that presumption and aren’t willing to cede the nomination to her.

Amongst the plethora of her opponents, perhaps the most notable is former Speaker of the House Mark Eves. Eves – like most of the other candidates in the Democratic primary – seems to be challenging Mills from her left, rather than the center. At a recent forum in Augusta, for example, he endorsed a single-payer health care system, while Mills did not. Being from southern Maine, he also has a different geographical base than Mills, who’s from the Farmington area.

An interesting choice for Democrats might be Adam Cote, an Iraq War veteran who ran a surprisingly strong primary campaign against Chellie Pingree when the 1st District seat was open in 2008. Although he’s hurt by his relative lack of involvement in politics since then, that also allows him to claim the outsider mantle (a la LePage), but as a moderate. Indeed, he’s almost uniquely positioned to grab that banner, as he’s the only Democratic candidate other than Patrick Eisenhart who isn’t a lobbyist or one-time legislator.

If both parties tilt to the extremes, that may open up a path for independent Terry Hayes, the current state treasurer. Hayes is bright and capable, with a clear record of bipartisanship which could be appealing to quite a few voters sick of division in Augusta. She could effectively thread the needle for voters who want fiscal responsibility but won’t go along with social conservatism.

Maine will have a wide-open field for the gubernatorial race, in both the general election and the primaries. With the added wrinkle of ranked-choice voting, it will prove to be an especially wild election. No matter who you end up supporting, buckle up and get ready for a crazy year.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel