March 1, 2012

Snowe's retirement causes statewide game of musical chairs

By Edward D. Murphy
Staff Writer

That loud rumble heard Wednesday was Maine's political landscape beginning a once-in-a-generation shake-up.

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U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s announcement Tuesday that she would not seek a fourth term this November set off a chain reaction as Maine political leaders interested in a Senate run open up seats in Congress and the State House.

2000 File Photo/The Portland Press Herald

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U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's announcement Tuesday that she will not seek re-election set off political shock waves because she was considered a virtual lock for a fourth term -- and as she ran and won, she held politicians farther down the ladder in place.

"Everyone else's ambition for higher office is conditional on when that person decides to retire," said John Baughman, a political science professor at Bates College in Lewiston. With Snowe stepping aside, "you're going to have a chain reaction going down to the state Legislature and maybe beyond."

That chain reaction started with Snowe's surprise statement late Tuesday, but aspiring candidates had to wait until Wednesday morning, when the Secretary of State Office's doors were unlocked and nominating petitions could be taken out.

Petitions -- bearing 2,000 voter signatures for Senate candidates and 1,000 for House candidates -- are due by the close of business March 15 for anyone who wants to run in a party primary June 12, so there isn't much time to weigh pros and cons.

One of the first to get petitions Wednesday was Democrat Mike Michaud, who since 2003 has represented Maine's 2nd Congressional District -- the district Snowe represented for 16 years until she won her Senate seat.

Michaud sent a campaign worker to get petition papers before 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Then came candidates seeking Michaud's seat, followed by candidates who assumed that Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree would give up her 1st District seat to run for the Senate.

Pingree herself waited until midafternoon. She said she hasn't made up her mind, but is "definitely leaning toward" running for the Senate, so she got petitions to keep her options open. She will make her final decision this weekend, she said.

A group of activists delivered a petition to Pingree's campaign headquarters in Portland, calling on her to accept a "draft" for the Senate. They left with papers to begin gathering signatures to get her in the Democratic primary, should she follow her leaning.

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.

Former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat who also served four terms in the U.S. House, took out papers for the Senate seat Wednesday afternoon. Former Gov. Angus King said he's considering running as an independent, which would give him until June to submit signatures.

Eliot Cutler, an independent gubernatorial candidate in 2010, said he's considering a run for Senate, also as an independent.

Also in the changing picture were candidates who had planned to run in the Democratic primary for the nomination to challenge Snowe in November.

State Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, knew his race had changed when Snowe put out her statement Tuesday.

"As soon as the person considered to be unbeatable was gone," Hinck said, he knew that "every person with a long political resume would jump in."

Hinck decided to take out papers for Pingree's 1st District House seat. So did state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, who in January had declared herself a candidate for Snowe's seat.

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