Two years ago, Republicans went hard after the state Senate seat representing the towns just north of Portland, and that was when a popular and independent incumbent was in the race.

Now that Dick Woodbury has decided not to run for a third term, the District 25 seat is up for grabs. The two major parties are pouring money into the race, a contest that features negative ads posted online and mailed to voters’ homes.

Either party could argue it has the edge to win the seat, which represents a sprawling and diverse district that could prove crucial in determining which party will have majority control in the state Senate.

In the Democrats’ corner is Cathy Breen, 49, a former Falmouth Town Council chair who termed-out of that office in 2011. Recruited by the Republicans is Cathy Manchester, 54, of Gray, who owns a realty business, was the state’s first female municipal police chief and is a former stock car racer.

As Maine Clean Election candidates, both are limited to spending just under $22,000 themselves. That has left much of the advertising to their supporters, including party organizations that want badly to secure the seat.

The seat was long held by Republicans before Woodbury was elected in 2010. Recent redistricting, however, has tipped the constituency toward the Democrats by excluding North Yarmouth and adding part of Westbrook to the district. District 25 also includes Falmouth, Yarmouth, Cumberland, Gray, Chebeague Island and Long Island.

The registered voters are a mix of affluent coastal residents, fishermen and rural working-class families split almost evenly three ways with 33 percent Democratic, 33 percent unenrolled and 32 percent Republican.

As of Monday, pro-Republican groups had spent nearly twice as much as the Maine Democratic State Committee, Breen’s only source of independent expenditures so far. But expenditures have yet to be reported by two national groups that have gotten involved in the race.

The contest has even garnered attention outside Maine. The national Republican State Leadership Committee named Manchester among its top 14 female state-level candidates to watch in 2014, and Emily’s List, a national group that supports pro-abortion-rights women, endorsed Breen on Friday.

With two typically high-spending weeks to go, the nearly $70,000 spent so far could exceed the more than $100,000 that came from outside groups in the 2012 race between Woodbury and Republican Chris Tyll.

Although Breen’s side has stuck to advertising that promotes the Falmouth Democrat, nearly a quarter of the money spent by groups aligned with Manchester has been used to attack Breen.

A targeted Facebook ad shows a video clip of Breen at a Falmouth Town Council meeting saying she doesn’t know the point of economic development.

The quote also was used against her by her opponent in the Democratic primary, Steve Woods. Breen has said she supports economic development, and that she made the comment when pressing a fellow councilor to be more specific about his goals for an economic development committee.

In another ad paid for by Republicans, a mailer shows an altered photo of Breen with fanned-out cash photo-shopped into her hand, accusing her of wasteful spending.

Breen said the doctored photo of her, in which the cash replaced an American flag she was holding at the Falmouth Memorial Day parade, “speaks volumes about the Republicans’ approach to elections,” though she believes Manchester had no part in it. Candidates by law cannot coordinate with the outside groups.

The Republican candidate, meanwhile, had no intention of running until she was asked.

Manchester had submitted an application to serve on the Maine Real Estate Commission days earlier when state senators converged on her office. It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. Five years ago she was asked to run for a one-year term on the Gray Town Council about 20 minutes before nomination papers were due.

“I’ll step up when I’m needed,” Manchester said.

She believes her real-world experience will be valuable in Augusta.

“We need people who have actually been there,” she said. “I’ve signed both sides of the paycheck.”

Manchester said she’s not a politician but “a hard-working, educated individual that cares enough to make a difference.”

Breen, who worked for nonprofits before taking care of her children full time, believes her knowledge of the political process makes her the better candidate.

“I understand how the different layers of government work together,” she said. “I have the experience of listening to taxpayers’ priorities and translating them into budgets and legislation.”

She also says she’s not partisan.

“I am running for the Legislature to be a voice for Maine, not a voice for a political party,” Breen is quoted as saying in a mailer paid for by the Maine Democratic Party.

 


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