March 18, 2010

Fed-up challengers emerge in Senate race



Tom Allen, Libby Mitchell
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Tom Allen, Libby Mitchell


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Tom Ledeu, Democratic candidate for the US Senate

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Washington, D.C., Correspondent

Tom Ledue, an administrator at Noble High School in North Berwick, visited Rep. Tom Allen's Portland campaign headquarters last weekend.

Instead of offering his help, Ledue told Allen, who is running for the U.S. Senate, that he also would seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Susan Collins in November.

''It was a courtesy call. We had a pleasant conversation,'' said Ledue, who needs 2,500 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the June 10 primary ballot.

Looking past Maine's primary, Allen could face another obstacle: Laurie Dobson, a liberal Democrat and mother of three from Kennebunkport who hopes to run as an independent candidate. She needs 4,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Their wading into the Senate race underscores the fact that some liberal Democrats are just as angry with members of their own party as they are with President Bush, and they are taking them on in elections.

''It demonstrates their impatience that the Democratic Congress has not shut off funds for the war, is not tough enough on the president, and someone has to point the finger even at Democrats,'' said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst and author of the Rothenberg Political Report.

Ledue, 44, is running ''to change the conversation'' in Washington, arguing that Congress is not addressing problems ''holistically.''

He said Allen is ''a good man'' but ''is wrapped up in a political machine that is broken.''

Dobson, 51, has been pushing for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, even though little time remains in their terms. She went on a 10-day hunger strike last year to draw attention to the issue.

Although she considered running as a Democrat, she said she could not get the necessary support.

''The Democratic Party has not done what it was required to do,'' Dobson said.

Ledue, who lives in Springvale, has never run for or held public office. Dobson got 23 percent of the vote in a losing bid for the Connecticut State Assembly in 2002.

Their political presence could pose risks for Democrats, who are hoping to expand their majorities in the House and Senate this year.

Republican senators face tough re-election challenges in Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Oregon. Voters in all four of those states supported Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the 2004 presidential race, so those contests are expected to be among the most competitive in the country.

In Maine, a deviation from a head-to-head race between Allen and Collins could hurt Allen, political experts say, because Dobson's candidacy could siphon votes from him in a tight contest.

''The independent challenge is more serious than the primary challenge,'' said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine in Orono. ''I'm sure Allen would rather avoid the challenge from Dobson.''

Independent and third-party candidates sometimes can turn an election.

In the 2000 presidential race, Ralph Nader's bid hurt Democrat Al Gore, particularly in hotly contested Florida. Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote.

In 2006, Republican donors paid a private company to collect ballot signatures for a Green Party candidate in a U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania. The idea was to siphon votes from Democrat Bob Casey to help GOP incumbent Rick Santorum. The move failed, and Casey won.

For his part, Allen is a proven vote-getter, having won six terms in the House. He easily won his 2006 congressional bid when he faced both an independent candidate and a Republican, who won a combined 39 percent of the vote against Allen.

''I'm going to stay focused on Senator Collins and keep working hard,'' Allen said.

He has $2.12 million in cash on hand, according to his last report filed with the Federal Election Commission, on Sept. 30, 2007. The year-end total will be released at the end of this month.

Like Dobson, voters elsewhere have expressed anger toward Washington and the Bush administration. Exit polls from the New Hampshire primary showed that 34 percent of Republicans were dissatisfied and 15 percent were angry; 92 percent of Democrats were dissatisfied and angry.

Still, it's unlikely that Congress will hold impeachment hearings, regardless of how much clamoring there might be. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, short-circuited the idea even before Democrats recaptured the House and Senate in 2006.

Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that she does not regret the decision.

''Impeachment would be very divisive,'' Pelosi said. ''Even if you wanted to do so, the prospect for success is so minimal (and) the damage that would have been done so consequential, that that's the course I chose.''

Dobson said Congress ought to begin holding hearings now and noted that the new Congress has some time to act when it arrives in Washington. It will be sworn in less than three weeks before Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, 2009.

Pelosi's decision, coupled with the Democrats' inability to force Bush to change course in Iraq, has led anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan to challenge Pelosi in this year's primary.

Other incumbents face primary opponents motivated by the urge to try to impeach Bush and Cheney.

In Massachusetts, a local Democratic Party official, Robert Feuer, has told Rep. John Olver that if he does not commit to impeaching Bush by Jan. 25, he will enter the primary.

Reps. Al Wynn, D-Md., Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., and Robert Wexler, D-Fla., face primary opponents who are upset with their votes on Iraq, trade, energy policy, immigration and job performance. Wexler has proposed hearings on impeachment.

''Cindy Sheehan is not going to beat Nancy Pelosi in a primary. This is a small segment of the electorate that feels very intensely,'' said Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution.

''Impeachment is harmful to the Democratic Party's interests. But in a general election, if it is really close, a few percentage points can matter.''

Washington, D.C., Correspondent Jonathan E. Kaplan can be contacted at (202) 488-1119 or at:

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Additional Photos

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer... Laurie Dobson of Kennebunkport, Independent candidate for District 1 Senate race. Photo taken on Thursday, January 17, 2008.

Susan Collins
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Susan Collins



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