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Tuesday August 16, 2011 | 08:58 AM

(Updated at bottom)

What do National Republican Party “robo-calls” and the Maine GOP congressional redistricting plan have to do with both Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and the 2012 presidential election?


The National Republican Congressional Committee later today is launching automated calls targeting Michaud, continuing evidence that the national GOP sees an opportunity in Maine’s second congressional district.

“Hello, I’m calling from the National Republican Congressional Committee with an important alert about your Congressman Michael Michaud,” the GOP call begins. “While some are changing the conversation in Washington to one of spending cuts and economic growth, Michael Michaud is part of a group making a bad economy worse.”

Michaud is a member of the Blue Dog caucus of fiscally conservative House Democrats, and he says House Republicans refused to agree to a debt ceiling deal that incorporated a balanced approach that mixed spending cuts with new tax revenues.

And the GOP proposal unveiled Monday to dramatically change Maine’s two districts, shifting the Portland-dominated first district held by Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree to the west and placing the Lewiston/Auburn area into the first district, has the effect of boosting GOP hopes in the second district by about 10,000 Republican voters, according to Democrats who have studied the plan.

Whether the GOP plan or the Democratic redistricting plan, which basically leaves the districts status quo, wins out with the independent commission that will offer up a plan to be voted on by the state legislature, remains to be seen. And both Michaud and Pingree won re-election races in 2010 by comfortable margins, so Michaud clearly won’t be easy pickings even if the GOP plan wins out.

But presidential politics plays a role in what is going on here, too, because Maine offers a presidential candidate the chance to pick up a single electoral vote – out of four total, two at large and one per district - by winning one of the two congressional districts even if the candidate loses the state overall. And if the GOP presidential candidate sees an opportunity to win a redrawn second district, that could mean more presidential campaigning, both in person and via TV and radio, there, and more national focus on both the presidential race and the GOP attempt to unseat Michaud, goes the GOP line of thinking.

Considering running against Michaud is a potentially formidable GOP candidate, state Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry, who is term limited in the Maine Senate. Raye lost a congressional election to Michaud back in 2002, the year Michaud won the House seat, by just 8,000 votes.

Asked about the battling plans, Michaud spokesman Ed Gilman said that, "The congressman is confident that this bipartisan process will result in a fair and reasonable solution."

There is no requirement that a member of Congress live in his or her district, but it's unusual for a member not to live within district lines. So while Pingree actually could wind up with a first district that is even more Democratic than before, she doesn’t much like the GOP plan, according to her spokesman.

Willy Ritch, Pingree's spokesman, said the GOP proposal to redraw the districts is a "radical plan" that represents a personal attack on Pingree "by taking her hometown out of her district."
Pingree has a house in Portland, but moved to North Haven - where she lives full time and owns an inn - as a teenager and first represented Knox County as a state senator two decades ago, Ritch said, adding that, "Obviously she'd like to continue to serve the people in the town where she lives."

Ritch said that by the numbers, "Only about 4,000 people need to be moved from one district to another to make them equal. The Democratic plan accomplishes this by moving one town of about 4,000 people. The Republicans move something like 360,000 people and nearly 140 municipalities.  There is no good reason for such a radical shift and to displace so many people," Ritch added.

(Update as of 7 p.m.: Pingree said in an interview today in Freeport, while attending an event on sustainable agriculture at Laughing Stock Farm, that the GOP plan is "outrageously political." She said that Republicans are trying to rig drastically new districts because both she and Michaud won handily in 2010.

Pingree said she intends to run again for the first district seat regardless of whether her home in North Haven remains in the district. She said it is too early to speculate on whether she would take up residence in a new first district, if the GOP plan succeeds, or run for reelection while remaining in North Haven, but said that she does not want to move from her home town.)

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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