Politics

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

(Continued from page 1)

Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, a Democrat, said he is still weighing whether to seek the congressional seat once held by his brother, former Gov. John Baldacci, whose 2002 gubernatorial bid opened the congressional door to Michaud.

"I've been talking to Democrats across the district and have gotten a good response, but I still have to make a decision about how it will affect my law practice and my family," said Joe Baldacci, who expects to announce his plans after Labor Day. Reflecting on the potential primary field, Baldacci added: "We have a lot of good people in the Democratic Party in Maine."

Former Republican House Minority Leader Josh Tardy of Newport is eyeing the race, although several party observers said they do not expect him to enter. State Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte -- two Republicans in their late 20s and early 30s with political aspirations -- are also reportedly considering congressional bids of their own. Tardy, Mason and LaBonte did not return calls seeking comment on their plans.

While Democrats have held the seat for nearly two decades, Republicans controlled the district for all but 12 years between 1940 and 1994, when Baldacci won his first term.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for the GOP to pick up a congressional seat,” said Erik Potholm, a Washington-area Republican strategist and campaign consultant who is also a Maine native. “There is no question in my mind that this becomes a nationally targeted race.”

Potholm said whoever wins each primary should expect a call from their party's national campaign headquarters the next day. And given the relatively inexpensive media market in Bangor and Presque Isle -- especially when compared to metropolitan areas -- Potholm expects the 2nd District to attract some of the flood of money by "outside groups" attempting to influence campaigns around the country.

"TV stations in northern Maine are going to have a banner year," Potholm said.

Democrats, not surprisingly, believe Republicans are getting their hopes up. While Republicans have held the seat in the past, Democrats point out that both Baldacci and Michaud handily won re-election, sometimes with more than 70 percent of the vote. Additionally, President Obama safely won the district in both 2008 and 2012, despite Republican suggestions that the 2nd's more conservative lean could favor their nominees.

"For nearly two decades Maine voters have supported Democrats in Congress because they've been steadfastly committed to bringing new jobs to the region, breaking through gridlock and growing the local economy," said Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Many pollsters and election observers, including the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato, still rate the race as "leaning Democratic" -- a change from the "safe Democratic" rating with Michaud in the race but not a full-fledged "toss-up."

"I think Republicans have a better chance now that it is open, but I am still skeptical that it will be one of the Republicans' better opportunities this year," said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, an influential, nonpartisan newsletter in Washington that tracks congressional races.

Gonzales joked that he felt "like we are caught in a time warp with this district" because many DC-based observers remember the Michaud-Raye match-up in 2002 -- when Michaud won 52 percent to 48 percent after a hard-fought campaign -- and expect a similarly competitive race this year. He suspects the dynamics have since changed but said it ultimately depends on who emerges from the primaries.

"The quality of the nominee matters as the (National Republican Congressional Committee) and outside groups make their investments" in races, he said.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at (207) 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

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