March 15, 2010

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— By . COVER

Blethen Maine News Service

AUGUSTA — Maine Republicans feel good about their chances of taking control of the state Senate this year, their optimism fueled by a better-than-usual candidate recruiting year, some openings due to term limits and an uncertain national political scene.

And, don't forget, Democrats hold only a one-seat majority.

''It's so close,'' said Maine Republican Party Executive Director Julie O'Brien.

''I think it's going to be very interesting from the top of the ticket down. The presidential race and Sen. (Susan) Collins will help the rest of the candidates.''

O'Brien, who is running for a Maine House seat against Democrat Anna Blodgett of Augusta, said Republicans also will work to paint Democrats as the ones who raised taxes on beer, wine and soda.

A question to repeal those taxes, which were put in place to support Dirigo Health, will be on the ballot as Question 1.

Senate Minority Leader Carol Weston, R-Montville, is leading the efforts to get at least 18 Republicans elected in the Senate. She faces a challenge from Democrat Diane Messer of Liberty.

''They (the Democrats) have done a good job, but we have, too,'' Weston said.

''There will be some surprises. Anytime you have a presidential election with both parties bringing out new people, there's some unknowns.''

All 35 Maine Senate seats are contested, and Republicans say they've had a particularly strong recruiting year.

Term limits mean some of the most popular Senators on both sides -- Senate President Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston and Sen. Christine Savage, R-Union -- can't run again.

''I do think, if one of the two national tickets is able to mobilize new voters and increase turnout, that could trickle down to the ballot'' in Maine, said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine in Orono.

Senate Majority Leader Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, said Democrats are working to get out the message that they are the party that gets things done.

''I feel optimistic we'll have more than 18'' seats, said Mitchell, who is running against former Rep. Kim Davis, R-Augusta.

If Republicans claim control of the chamber, it would be the first time the GOP had a hand in legislative leadership since the 2000 election, when a 17-17 tie (with one independent) forced a sharing of power.

The last time Republicans held the majority outright was in 1995, when they had an 18-16 margin, with one independent.

Weston said she took particular care this time around to recruit candidates who will do more than fill a spot on the ballot.

The GOP contingent includes former Sen. Mary Black Andrews, R-York, former Rep. Gerald Davis, R-Falmouth, and former Sen. Tom Sawyer, R-Bangor.

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