Politics

November 20, 2012

Leery of third-place pattern, Democrats already have eyes on Blaine House

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

The race is also set up well for LePage, who, as Brewer noted, likely needs a viable third candidate to pull off a repeat of 2010.

Nobody appears certain that LePage will seek a second term.

His supporters set up his re-election campaign committee in January, and the group Maine People Before Politics has been the governor's political arm since his inauguration. But the governor, whose favorability rating has remained mostly steady according to periodic polling, has not said that he definitely will run. Last week, he told Politico that he was unsure.

If Cutler is in the race, it may not matter to Democrats if Le- Page seeks re-election; the party could still face the prospect of an independent dividing the unenrolled and progressive voters.

Democrats also have a candidate problem.

U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud are established stars. But will they run for the Blaine House? Too soon to tell, Grant said, but either would immediately change the contours of the governor's race.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, the majority shareholder of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville.

Brewer isn't convinced that Pingree, who represents Maine's 1st Congressional District, is a good statewide candidate because of the conservative 2nd District. Michaud is another story.

"If I'm Ben Grant, the first thing I do is get on the phone and I beg Mike Michaud to run for governor," said Brewer. "He's the one Democrat who could easily be viewed as the front-runner in a race with Eliot Cutler and Paul LePage."

Grant dismissed suggestions that Michaud could face pressure from national Democrats not to give up his seat in the U.S. House.

"(For) the same forces that would want him to stay in Congress, there are equal forces that would want him to run for governor," said Grant, referring to the Democratic Governors Association. "He can have a huge impact from the Blaine House."

Absent a run by Michaud or Pingree, the party would have to draw from a pool of candidates who may not be ready, or known well enough, to run for governor.

The party's losses in 2010 hampered its ability to fortify its bench -- state commissioner positions or constitutional officers -- and elevate its public profile.

Grant hopes that the party's control of the Legislature will fix that problem.

He said it will evaluate the presumptive favorites to become the state's constitutional officers, Matt Dunlap (secretary of state), Janet Mills (attorney general) and Jeremy Fischer (state treasurer), as well younger figures: former House Speaker Hannah Pingree, current House leader Emily Cain, incoming Senate President Justin Alfond and incoming House Speaker Mark Eves.

It's not known whether any of those prospective candidates will be ready for prime time by summer of 2013, when Grant hopes Democrats will begin uniting behind one candidate.

Nonetheless, he said the party, and opponents, should know that Democrats won't sit out 2014.

"We can craft a long-term, well-thought-out plan and execute it," he said. "That's what's happening right now."

Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@mainetoday.com

twitter/stevemistler

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