Exit Sen. Susan Collins. Enter Shawn Moody.

That, in a nutshell, describes the sudden turn the Republican race to replace Gov. Paul LePage took last week.

With political observers from Augusta to Washington, D.C., hanging on her every word, Collins drew a rousing ovation from the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce with her long-awaited announcement that she will stay put in the U.S. Senate rather than run for the Blaine House.

Hours later, dressed in a company sweatshirt, jeans and a pair of semi-disintegrated sneakers that most people would have tossed out months ago, Moody sat in his unassuming office at Moody’s Collision Center in Gorham and reflected on his status as a newly enrolled Republican. And, in all likelihood, a second-time candidate for governor.

“I think there’s a high probability,” he replied when asked if Collins’ departure means he’s in.

Pull up a chair, folks. This could get interesting.

We last saw him as an independent for governor in 2010 who, despite not entering the race until after the June primaries, managed to secure 5 percent of the vote.

As disappointing as that finish might have been to him, it nevertheless made Moody a much sought-after recruit from both sides of Maine’s partisan divide.

Democrats came knocking soon after that election, but he turned them down flat.

Why? Because he’d watched how many in the party had deserted their candidate, Elizabeth Mitchell, in droves and flocked to independent Eliot Cutler, and he wasn’t impressed.

“I’m a pretty loyal guy,” Moody said. “And that was a big sign to me.”

Long courted by Republicans as well, Moody finally decided last week to enroll – for the first time in his life – for two reasons.

One was the realization that, like it or not, if you want to run for statewide office, you’re a lot better off propelled by the full weight of a party apparatus.

The other: “I really believe the Republican Party is more closely aligned with my values.”

Which are, for those who may have forgotten?

“If you had to categorize me, I don’t like waste,” Moody said. “And waste is all around us.”

Unlike last time, Moody will have many months to expand on that philosophy. Expect to hear a lot about the auto salvage business he owns in addition to his statewide chain of auto-body repair shops and how it operates on a philosophy of “No waste. Lean processes. Handle it once. These things are in my DNA.”

At the same time, expect to hear how sometimes, “you have to spend money to save money. Maine needs to invest strategically.”

To wit: Two years ago, Moody’s Collision Centers footed the bill for a solar-power installation that currently provides Maine Audubon with 80 percent of its electricity at its headquarters in Falmouth.

In addition to federal tax credits, what was in it for Moody?

“It was an experiment,” he said, noting that he’s long been interested in developing energy-saving innovations for his business. “It provided a laboratory for us.”

Therein lies what could, in the long run, be Moody’s magic: A self-described “fiscal hawk” who will wear a pair of sneakers until they’re literally falling apart, yet at the same time a businessman who sees solar power not as a leftist plot, but rather as a sound investment in the future.

Add to that what we’ll call the “Opie effect” – that boyish good nature, reminiscent of the perpetually optimistic TV son Ron Howard once played to Andy Griffith. It left Maine voters in near-unanimous agreement seven years ago that Moody, if nothing else, is one heck of a nice guy.

Consider what happened when, following the 2010 election, LePage nominated Moody to sit on the boards of trustees for both the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System.

After a member of the governor’s staff put out feelers to key legislators on Moody’s chances of confirmation, he told Moody he couldn’t say it was a slam dunk. (Moody now serves on both boards.)

“But I can tell you one thing,” the staffer told him. “You haven’t got any enemies.”

That is no small asset, especially when juxtaposed with the current state of Maine’s Republican Party.

“The two highest elected officials in the state (LePage and Collins), both Republicans, don’t even speak to one another.” Moody observed. “I mean I think we’ve got some work to do, right?”

Only Moody can make that observation with a straight face. The rest of the Republican field – former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason – all head into next year’s primary burdened by the very intraparty dysfunction Moody bemoans.

What’s more, while that crowd talks endlessly about the need for jobs and economic development, Moody has been out there growing his business and plowing 10 percent of his company’s after-tax profits into an employee stock option plan. (See: redistribution of wealth.)

“I don’t think anyone in the race has even close to what I have in terms of business acumen,” he said. “And the ability to, you know, tighten up, conserve.”

Talk like that, in this era of “let’s throw the bums out and bring in a non-politician for a change,” could serve Moody well once he formally enters the race – he plans an announcement sometime before Thanksgiving.

And for those still loyal to one or another of the declared competition, consider the real possibility that ranked-choice voting will still be the law of the land come June.

If ever there was a popular second choice, which under the ranked-choice system can spell easy victory in a crowded field, it’s the guy who steadfastly refused to go negative last time around because his mother once told him, “Shawn, you can try hard to grow to be the tallest tree in the forest, or you can take a chainsaw and cut all the other trees down.”

Moody knows that Collins, had she decided to run, could have figured out a winning strategy “on the back of a napkin.”

And now that she’s out, he has nothing but praise for her decision to go back to the “mosh pit” that is the U.S. Senate and keep fighting the good fight for Maine.

But truth be told, he said, “I would have run either way.”

So, is this just another pipe dream?

Or can Moody, the guy in the sweatshirt who’s tight with a dollar, gain traction as a newly minted Republican?

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, he’ll need a new pair of sneakers.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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