March 12, 2010

Next big election not yet in focus

MATT WICKENHEISER

— By

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John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer: Thursday, February, 28,2008. Maine's attorney general Steven Rowe speaks to a group of Family Crisis Services workers today at Shawnee Peak ski area in Bridgton.

Tom Allen
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Tom Allen

AP

Staff Writer

The presidential race has ended. Maine's U.S. Senate race is over. The voters have spoken. The signs have been put away.

What's a political junkie to do?

Start looking ahead to the 2010 campaign for Maine's governor.

The election is nearly two years away, but prospective candidates already are in the beginning stages of their campaigns. The office will become vacant after Democratic Gov. John Baldacci ends his second four-year term, at the end of 2010.

It's a months-long informal period of trial balloons and ''what-ifs'' -- a hot stove league for political junkies as a dozen or so names from both major parties are tossed around.

Democrat Steven Rowe's pending departure as Maine's attorney general launches the speculative frenzy.

Rowe, of Portland, is one of the few who has been explicit in his aspirations to be governor.

''I definitely plan to run for governor in 2010,'' Rowe said last week. ''I don't have a specific date to formally announce or start the campaign. I've been talking to people for many months across the state. I'm excited and looking forward to running.''

Another clear answer came from Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, who unsuccessfully challenged Republican Sen. Susan Collins in a bruising bid to take her seat, and will be out of work when the new Congress is sworn in Jan. 6.

Allen spokesman Mark Sullivan said his boss ''has stated unequivocally that he will not be running for governor.''

Other potential candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, were cagey, coy, noncommittal and vaguely intrigued -- in varying combinations.

To be fair, potential candidates involved in state government have a heavy lift in front of them with Maine's $838 million two-year budget shortfall, so a run for governor may not be top-of-mind.

That said, it's the ''season of no costs,'' said Christian Potholm, a political scientist at Bowdoin College who has worked as a consultant and pollster for both major parties.

''Anybody can float their name out there and take pleasure in the fact that somebody -- friend or foe -- will come up ... and say, 'That's great, Joe -- you're running,''' Potholm said.

The list will narrow as candidates have trouble finding supporters, or decide they don't want to spend their own money or spend time raising the $2 million a candidate will likely need for the run, he said.

By September, the field will be clear, said Toby McGrath, a Democratic political strategist who was President-elect Barack Obama's state director.

''Steve Rowe is out there, he's running. Everybody else is kind of dancing right now,'' said McGrath. ''By August, September, you'll know who the actual, strong nominees are for each party.''

There are still many moving parts to the game. Not the least of which is the budget crisis, and how Maine lawmakers will deal with it.

Another wrinkle is the potential for prominent Mainers to be tapped for federal positions by the Obama administration. That could send ripples and adjustments through Maine's political scene, McGrath said.

For now, these are some of the other names being tossed about by lawmakers, political activists, those who watch politics and the potential candidates themselves.

DEMOCRATS

n John Richardson, former speaker of the House of Representatives, current commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Asked if he plans to run, he said: ''My sole focus is working on improving the economy.''

n Laura Fortman, former executive director of the Maine Women's Policy Center/Maine Women's Lobby, current commissioner of labor. Fortman declined to comment.

n Patrick K. McGowan, former regional head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, current conservation commissioner; ran strong but unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives against then-Rep. Olympia Snowe in 1990 and 1992.

''I'm doing a job that's probably the best job I've ever had in my life,'' McGowan said. ''I've not announced any intentions to run for governor in 2010.''

He added, however, that he has not ruled it out.

n State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, former secretary of state, has been chairman of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

''The truth of the matter is, I think anybody who's involved with the responsibility of dealing with this coming budget needs to focus 100 percent on doing that,'' Diamond said.

''Sometime after this year's over with, I need to give it some thought.''

n Beth Edmonds, former Maine Senate president, director of the Freeport Community Library. Edmonds was blocked from running for Senate again this year by term limits.

Edmonds said she is resting and exercising, now that she's no longer a legislative leader. ''I don't want to close any doors, but this is too premature for me to have made a decision,'' she said of a possible run for the Blaine House.

n Glenn Cummings, former speaker of the Maine House, current dean of institutional advancement at Southern Maine Community College.

Like Edmonds, Cummings was termed out of office this year. In addition to being an SMCC official, Cummings is in a doctoral program in public policy and higher education through the University of Pennsylvania.

''I haven't completely ruled it out, but it doesn't appear to be my first priority,'' Cummings said about running for governor.

REPUBLICANS

n State Sen. Peter Mills, R-Skowhegan, finished second in the Republican primary in the 2006 gubernatorial race. Mills is an attorney in private practice with his sister, Janet Mills, the state's next attorney general. Mills couldn't be reached for comment.

n House Minority Leader Joshua Tardy, R-Newport. Tardy, an attorney, could not be reached for comment.

n Matt Jacobson, president and chief executive officer of Maine & Co., a business attraction organization. Jacobson previously was an executive with Canadian National Railways in Chicago, and was president and chief operating officer of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad in Auburn.

Jacobson said he'd be interested but hasn't made a firm decision. ''I think folks are starting to come to the realization that the next governor will have to really worry about the economy,'' Jacobson said.

''Every day, I do this, I try to work on Maine's economy. I spend my days worrying about how we grow jobs, grow the economy. I think I've had some success at it,'' he said.

n Steve Abbott, chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who also managed her successful re-election campaign against Allen. Abbott could not be reached for comment.

n Kevin Hancock, president of Hancock Lumber. Hancock couldn't be reached for comment.

n Les Otten, an entrepreneur who's now involved in a wood pellet heating venture, founder of American Skiing Co., former minority partner with the Boston Red Sox.

''I think this is pretty early to be asking that question,'' Otten said when asked if he was considering a run for governor.

n Peter Vigue, chairman of the Cianbro Cos., who in past interviews described himself as an American, rather than as a member of a political party.

Vigue, who has advocated strongly for an east-west highway and whose company has refurbished a mill in Brewer, putting roughly 650 people to work in manufacturing jobs, said he's been concentrating on his job, rather than a political campaign.

''My primary focus these days, and for some time now, has not been on my personal aspirations but on growing this team, our companies and helping the people in other companies in the state of Maine by demonstrating they can create opportunity and do difficult things and compete in the world,'' said Vigue. ''I've been preoccupied with that for quite some time now -- well over two years.''

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com

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