August 25, 2013

Republicans see potential to win 2nd District seat

The field of hopefuls is growing for Maine's largely rural district, which could figure in the 2014 battle to dominate Congress.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - Rural Maine could become a front in the battle for Congress next year as Republicans look to capitalize on the first open-seat election in Maine's more conservative 2nd District in more than a decade.

"There is no doubt things have changed in terms of our view of Maine," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of the House GOP. "It has been a Republican-friendly state as far as electing Republican senators and a governor, ... and it's also a rural state, which serves Republicans well."

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are painting a less competitive picture of a district that, despite its rural nature, hasn't sent a Republican to Washington in nearly 20 years.

"No amount of political prognosticating can change the fact that Republicans in Congress are out of touch and obstructing job creation in Maine and throughout the country," Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement to the Maine Sunday Telegram on Friday.

While the primaries are still 10 months away, congressional hopefuls are already starting to flesh out what is expected to be a crowded field of candidates. Five people have announced plans to seek their party's nomination to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who is forgoing a perceived easy re-election in 2014 to run for governor.

On the Republican side, 24-year-old state Rep. Alex Willette of Mapleton represents the infusion of young faces in Republican leadership ranks in recent years, while former Navy officer Blaine Richardson of Belfast is running for the second time on the party's conservative flank.

Across the aisle, Sen. Emily Cain of Orono is a 33-year-old former Democratic leader in the Maine House who is already raising significant sums of cash and attracting attention from national groups such as EMILY's List, an organization that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women.

Cain will vie against her colleague Sen. Troy Jackson, an Allagash logger and Senate leader likely to appeal to some of the same blue-collar northern Mainers who appreciated Michaud's background as a paper mill worker. Political newcomer and former Navy submariner Alden Smith of Sangerville has also joined the race on the Democratic ticket.

And then there is the lengthy list of those still mulling a run for Congress.

Former Maine Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry and former Sen. Richard Rosen of Bucksport are seriously considering running on the Republican ticket. Both are moderate Republicans with lengthy political careers in Maine. And while Michaud soundly defeated Raye last year, many attribute the margin more to Michaud's popularity than disapproval of Raye.

"I'm very encouraged," Raye said Friday of feedback he has received about the possibility of another congressional run. "It has been a very, very strong and positive response."

Republican insiders say that Bruce Poliquin, a Republican gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidate who served two years as state treasurer, is expected to declare his candidacy soon. A resident of Maine's southern district, Poliquin has suggested he would likely move into the 2nd if he were to run.

Attorney General Janet T. Mills, a Democrat, confirmed Friday that she is thinking about joining the fray, although she added in an email that "I do love my current job, a position I worked hard to achieve." Two other Democrats -- Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town and Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan -- are also reportedly considering running.

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