Former Gov. John Baldacci
By Edward D. Murphy
PORTLAND - Former two-term Gov. John Baldacci is considering running for governor again in 2014.
"It's something I'm thinking about," he said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
Baldacci, a Democrat who was governor from 2003 to 2011, said he's worried that the partisan gridlock in Washington is being mirrored in Augusta.
"We're losing some of the glue that keeps the machinery operating," he said.
Baldacci, who will turn 58 on Jan. 30, is now a consultant with the Pierce Atwood law firm in Portland. He spoke in Hermon on Tuesday morning at an event hosted by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. He told reporters there that he would consider running for governor in 2014.
Baldacci and former state Senate President Rick Bennett, a Republican, have teamed up to form a state chapter of Fix the Debt, a national organization that is urging a bipartisan solution to the nation's $16 trillion debt.
Baldacci said he and Bennett have several appearances planned around the state in the coming months.
He said the bipartisan approach that it took for the federal government to avoid the "fiscal cliff" showed that both parties can work together, although he wishes their solution had been more far-reaching.
He noted that Mainers have a long history of avoiding partisanship. "We have that happen more in our state than in other states," he said.
But he now sees "a lot of negativism, which puts down Maine people, Maine students . . . It's just not reflective of the people I know and the businesses I see operating."
He said Maine faces challenges, but "I get tired of people being put down," and the negative comments make it hard to attract businesses to the state.
"Every day that we're fighting each other is a day lost," he said.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci two years ago, attended a media event Tuesday at the University of New England in Portland.
When asked by a reporter for the Portland Press Herald what he thought about Baldacci's potential interest in his job, LePage laughed and replied, "Christmas comes early sometimes."
LePage declined to elaborate on what he meant.
Brent Littlefield, the governor's political adviser, told The Associated Press that people were ready for changes after Baldacci's eight years in office.
"The state is aware of where Gov. Baldacci's standing was when he left office," Littlefield said.
LePage has set up a re-election committee and begun raising money, but there has been no official announcement on whether he plans to run for a second term.
Ron Schmidt, an associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, said he was surprised to learn that Baldacci is considering running again. He said it's far too early for the Democratic Party to embrace a particular candidate for next year's gubernatorial race.
"My impression is, Gov. Baldacci was done with politics when he left office. His interest could be a question of legacy," Schmidt said. "He may think that LePage has undone a lot of his work."
Schmidt predicted that Democrats will move cautiously before endorsing a gubernatorial candidate.
"I think the Democrats are really gun-shy after what happened to them in 2010," when Democrat Libby Mitchell finished a distant third. "An incumbent like Baldacci might be able to pull them together, but Baldacci is no (Bill) Clinton."
Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said he is glad to see that Baldacci is interested but Democrats will have to do a lot of research and polling before they back a particular candidate.
"We all sense that Gov. LePage is vulnerable. His priorities just are not in line with Maine people," Grant said.
David Farmer, who was Baldacci's communications director and deputy chief of staff, said the former governor would be a strong candidate.
Farmer, who has no connection to Baldacci now, said the two talk regularly. Baldacci has told Farmer he would consider running if Democratic U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud have no interest.
"It would be a mistake for people to take his potential lightly," Farmer said.
Eliot Cutler, who finished a close second to LePage as an independent candidate in 2010, said he is giving the next race for governor "strong consideration."
If he does run again, it will be as an independent.
Cutler said, "I think that Governor Baldacci would be a formidable candidate and would present a clear choice for voters."
Baldacci said he doesn't have to be the Democratic candidate next year. He noted other leaders in the party, including Senate President Justin Alfond, House Speak Mark Eves, and Pingree and Michaud.
"I'm just a soldier in the army," he said.
Maine's Constitution bars the governor from serving three consecutive terms, but says nothing about a two-term governor running again after sitting out a term.
Staff Writers Dennis Hoey and Kelley Bouchard contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: