Tuesday February 11, 2014 | 12:12 PM

 

(Update 2.13.14 -- Looks like the lifecycle of Frary's primary challenge was about 48 hours. He told Morning Sentinel Wednesday that he's not running.) 

Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, has been an outspoken supporter of Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, a position that puts him at odds with a number of his Republican colleagues. On Monday, the resurrected political forum As Maine Goes broke the news that that Saviello could face a primary challenge from John Frary, a conservative columnist and 2008 2nd District congressional candidate. 

AMG noted speculation that Frary's potential bid is backed by conservative activist Mary Adams, a longtime ally of Gov. Paul LePage.

Frary's bid may be directly tied to Saviello's support for Medicaid expansion. After all, Republicans believed to be considering voting for expansion have been identified by conservative advocacy groups like the Maine Heritage Policy Center through voter action alerts. Here are two MHPC Facebook ads targeting Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, and Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta. 

 

That said, Frary's potential primary challenge may have deeper roots than just Medicaid expansion. Saviello, a former independent and Democrat, has drawn the ire of hardline conservatives for joining Democrats on other legislation, and he has openly defied Gov. Paul LePage on several issues. 

Frary, who doesn't mince words, has certainly noticed. Last year, Frary used his website to blast Saviello for sponsoring a bill that would have rolled back a portion of the Republican-led tax cut package enacted in 2011, an achievement that LePage still champions as one of his proudest legislative victories.

Frary wrote:

"Ex-Democrat, ex-Independent, and now lone-wolf (some prefer “ lone-weasel”) Republican Sen. Tom Saviello proposes to restore the previous marginal rates on the rich. This has brought him a great deal of local media attention and praise from liberals. In their excitement they have paid little attention to Saviello’s estimate that this will bring in a paltry $5,000,000 in revenue."

There are other factors potentially at work here, including the ongoing feud among members of the Franklin County Republicans and some members' resistance to the governor and his allies' control of the Maine Republican Party. That includes Franklin County denizen and former Maine GOP head Charlie Webster. Webster has clashed frequently with LePage. Last summer there was rampant speculation that Webster was seeking a prominent Republican to mount a primary challenge to LePage this year. Such a challenger has not come forward. Some LePage loyalists also suspected that members of the Franklin County delegation were responsible for leaking comments the governor made about President Obama during a fundraiser held last summer.

All of that may be playing into Frary's potential primary bid against Saviello.

Saviello isn't talking about any of it. He said Tuesday that Frary has the "consitutional right to run." As for his support of Medicaid expansion, he said, "I stand behind my decision to support the expansion. It is the right thing for the district, hospital and people of the area."

Also, as noted by some commenters on As Maine Goes, even if Frary were to defeat Saviello in the Republican primary there's some question about how the professor would fare in a general election. Also, there's nothing to prevent Saviello from running as an independent.

Saviello will not confirm that he'd leave the party if Frary enters the race.

Update: A source close to the LePage administration said Tuesday that the governor has nothing to do with the looming primary against Saviello. The same source said the governor has personally communicated this to Saviello.

Update 2: Another Republican source messaged Tuesday night to say this about Frary: "This is exactly the sort of thing that has kept Harry Reid as US Senate Majority Leader for the past seven years. If John Frary and his supporters like the idea of tax and spend big government liberals running Augusta, he should absolutely challenge Tom Saviello."

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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
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