May 17, 2010

GOP's Abbott: A passion for politics, and Maine

A graduate of Harvard and UMaine's law school, Steve Abbott has been Sen. Collins' chief of staff.

By Matt Wickenheiser
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - When Steve Abbott crossed the Charles River daily from Harvard's classrooms to its football practice fields, he would often pause to read the inscription on the bronze plaque at Anderson Memorial Yard: "May this bridge, connecting the College Yard and playing fields of Harvard, be an ever present reminder to students passing over it of loyalty to country and Alma Mater."

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Gubernatorial hopeful Steve Abbott talks with Rep. Ralph Sarty at the Lake Angler’s Association meeting in Naples recently.

Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

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This is the fifth in a series profiling candidates for governor. Steve Abbott will chat with readers live at noon today at

August 16, 1962
FAMILY: Wife, Amy Abbott; two children
OCCUPATION: Formerly chief of staff for Sen. Susan Collins
EDUCATION: BA in history, Harvard; law degree from the University of Maine School of Law
PUBLIC OFFICE EXPERIENCE: Chief of staff for Sen. Susan Collins, 1997-2010

The words "loyalty to country" meant something to him, said Abbott. They reinforced his desire to work in public service. After college, he worked on political campaigns in Maine and eventually became U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' chief of staff, a position he held for the last dozen years.

Public service, said Abbott, is what has driven him to run for governor of Maine on the Republican ticket. For Abbott, being governor would be an opportunity to shape the future of the state.

"I am a Mainer, I love the state, I believe in the state," said Abbott. "We're at a point now where there's going to be a restructuring in Maine, because of the financial situation. Things are going to look different. Now is our chance to set what our course is going to be. I want to have a say in what that looks like."

Abbott, 47, is in a crowded field for the June 8 primary. He is running against Bill Beardsley of Ellsworth, Matt Jacobson of Cumberland, Paul LePage of Waterville, Peter Mills of Cornville, Les Otten of Greenwood and Bruce Poliquin of Georgetown.

He is seen, to an extent, as the Republican establishment's candidate, with key endorsements from figures like House Minority Leader Joshua Tardy, former House Minority Leader Joe Bruno, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Jon Courtney, Cianbro Chairman Peter Vigue, and Peter Cianchette, former ambassador to Costa Rica and the 2002 GOP nominee for governor.

Cianchette said the crowded field with viable candidates makes it hard for anyone to distinguish themselves. But, he said, Abbott's commitment to public service should stand out.

"It's more than just a love of government and politics. It's more about serving the state," said Cianchette. "We've had many conversations. It's entirely genuine. He feels it as part of his responsibility to try to make a better place."

Abbott's looking to draw votes from both Portland, where he lives with his wife, Amy, and two young children, Hannah and Henry, and from Orono, where he grew up.

Abbott's father was the football coach at the University of Maine. His mother was an elementary school reading teacher.

The university campus was like a playground for Abbott and his friends, he said. He would spend most fall days hanging out at practices; during the football season they were some of the only times he would see his dad. He was a ball boy for the games and was on the sidelines from the age of 7 on.

He says he learned about determination, dedication and hard work from watching his father and the players. Sports and competition would pervade his life. He played football, basketball, baseball for a year and track for three years at Orono High School.

He played football on the Harvard College team, playing on two Ivy League championship teams and serving as team captain in 1984.

After college, many of his friends headed to Wall Street -- it was the mid-'80s. Abbott headed home, worked at summer sports camps and began to substitute teach in the fall.

He was interested in politics, and UMaine professor Charlie "Chick" O'Leary -- who would later head the Maine AFL/CIO -- tried to get him on some Democratic campaigns. Abbott explained that he was a Republican, and O'Leary called John McKernan, who was running for governor. The fact that O'Leary would reach out to a Republican for him made a real impression, said Abbott.

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