February 29, 2012

All of a sudden, Senate race is wide open

High-profile members of both parties are expected to try to beat the March 15 deadline.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Olympia Snowe's surprise announcement that she will retire from the U.S. Senate set off intense speculation Tuesday about who will run for her seat and what the ripple effects will be on Maine's two U.S. House races.

While Democrats expressed excitement about the new possibilities for 2012, Republicans were clearly disappointed. Members of her party were blindsided, a little more than two weeks before the filing deadline for Maine's June 12 primaries.

"The ink hasn't dried off her announcement (to run)," said Josh Tardy, a former House GOP leader who now works as a lobbyist. "On all sides, it blows (the race) wide open. The Democrats may take another focus on it and increase their field. It will create a frenzy on the Republican side."

Democratic leaders cited Snowe's service to the state even as they considered the impact of her departure.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, who praised Snowe as "a powerful role model for women around our nation and around the world," said Democrats have three strong candidates, and there may soon be more.

"With someone who has served as long as Olympia Snowe has, there are many doors that open when an announcement like this comes," she said.

The Democrats now have four declared candidates: state Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth; state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland; Matthew Dunlap, a former legislator and secretary of state from Old Town; and Benjamin Pollard, a home builder from Portland.

Snowe had one GOP primary challenger, Scott D'Amboise of Lisbon Falls. D'Amboise issued a statement Tuesday saying he is the presumptive GOP nominee because there is so little time for other candidates to qualify.

"I respect Senator Snowe's decision, and look forward to facing the Democratic nominee in the fall," he said.

A candidate needs 2,000 certified signatures by March 15 to qualify for the primary ballot. But all observers now expect the field to grow and shift.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st Congressional District, thanked Snowe for her service and said she is considering a run for the seat.

Pingree's husband, S. Donald Sussman, is a financier, philanthropist and frequent Democratic donor who recently purchased a 5 percent equity stake in MaineToday Media through Maine Values LLC.

MaineToday Media owns and operates The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.

Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who represents Maine's 2nd Congressional District, also praised Snowe and said he, too, is considering a run.

A decision by Michaud or Pingree – or both – to run for Senate would create a scramble for one or both House seats.

Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, who was an aide to Snowe for more than 17 years, said he will consider a run for the Senate seat. Raye is now running for the 2nd District congressional seat.

Other Republicans mentioned as possible candidates Tuesday were Secretary of State Charlie Summers and former ambassador and gubernatorial candidate Peter Cianchette.

Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth, an independent who narrowly lost Maine's governor's race in 2010, also was widely mentioned as a possible candidate.

"I think we're looking at a whole new race now," said Ron Schmidt, associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

Schmidt said he was amazed by Snowe's decision, which draws national attention to Maine's Senate race.

With Snowe running, the seat was considered safe for the GOP, Schmidt said. Now, it is much more of a toss-up.

"I would have said, before, there were five, or at top seven, Senate seats in play (nationwide). This makes another one," he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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