Saturday, March 8, 2014
AUGUSTA — Voters across Maine will narrow the field of legislative candidates next month in party primaries designed to produce the best possible slate for November's general election.
BY THE NUMBERS
• Total Democratic primaries: 24
• Total Republican primaries: 17
• Number of House members termed out: 24
• Number of senators termed out: 10
Sources: Maine Republican and Democratic parties and the 2011 Senate and House Registers
TO SEE A complete list of primary races in Maine, go to www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/upcoming.html.
With about 40 primaries on the June 12 ballot -- and all 186 legislative seats open in November -- Republicans and Democrats say the state is headed for a high-stakes showdown.
"This is the most important election in the history of the Maine Democratic Party," said Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant.
That's because Democrats lost control of the House and Senate for the first time in more than 30 years in 2010 and hope to make a comeback. But Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said his party's field of candidates is stronger, and more mainstream, than those recruited by Democrats.
"We look for barbers, hairdressers and plumbers," he said. "They're not Democrats anymore. It's going to be hard for Democrats to move back to the center."
Across the state, yard signs are springing up, touting Republicans and Democrats who hope to represent their parties on the Nov. 6 ballot. Notable primary races are shaping up in Old Orchard Beach, Biddeford, Saco, Freeport, Portland, Augusta and Gardiner.
The 35-member Senate appears to be particularly volatile, with 10 senators forced from office by term limits, the most since voters enacted Maine's four-term limit in 1993. This year, five Republicans and five Democrats cannot run for the Senate again.
Large primary fields in pockets of the state should draw voters' interest.
In Old Orchard Beach, four Democrats are running for the House District 132 seat, which is being vacated by Rep. George Hogan, a Democrat who is prevented from running again by term limits. The primary winner will face Republican Sharri MacDonald.
In Biddeford, Mayor Alan Casavant, a House member, is being challenged in a primary by state Sen. Nancy Sullivan, who is being forced out of the Senate by term limits. The winner will face Republican William Guay of Kennebunkport.
Biddeford's two other House seats and the city's Senate seat have Democratic primaries as well.
And in Augusta, Republicans Michael Hein and Andrew Worcester will square off in the House District 57 primary. Hein is a former employee of the Christian Civic League of Maine. Worcester is a former legislative staffer.
Rep. Maeghan Maloney, D-Augusta, has signed up to run again, although she may be replaced as a candidate because she is running for district attorney.
In Maine, only registered members of the parties can vote in primaries. Voters who are unenrolled now -- about 36 percent of Maine's voters -- can join a party any time between now and Election Day, including the day of the election, according to the Secretary of State's Office.
Assistant House Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, said voters who are interested in the political process can get involved, even if they never have wanted to join any of Maine's major political parties.
"I believe that's healthy because you make a conscious decision to select candidates," he said. "You don't just vote for a person because they have nice signs, pretty hair or they went to your kid's ball game."
Cushing is seeking a Senate seat, and will face James Emerson of Corinna in a primary. He said that knowing a primary is coming makes him pay closer attention to local events, and in this race he has many more towns to cover because he's seeking to move from the House to the Senate. The winner of his primary will face Democrat Sherman Leighton Jr. of Dexter in November.
The party chairmen, Grant and Webster, say they are hands-off when it comes to primaries, preferring to let candidates compete district by district. The parties provide some support and advice to candidates, but both chairmen say it's best to let locals decide their nominees, then help the winners focus on November.
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