The recent decision of businessman Shawn Moody to run for governor – as a Republican this time, after joining the party less than two months ago – is an interesting one, but it is unlikely to have the dramatic immediate impact that he and his supporters hope. Indeed, none of the Republican candidates is formidable enough to clear the field or even convince one other candidate to reconsider, but there may be a candidate on the other side of the aisle who can have that effect on her party.

The recent news that U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, was considering a run for governor wasn’t a total shock, as there had been rumors. Still, it was a surprise when Pingree herself confirmed it recently, and said she would make her decision by the end of the year.

Partially it was a surprise because, while Chellie Pingree would be a truly formidable candidate in the Democratic primary, she’s not unstoppable. There’s been no indication that she’s laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run, either by dissuading others from running or by locking up key supporters, operatives, and donors. Instead, the Democratic field has slowly evolved on its own, with various candidates jockeying for position amongst the party faithful. That’s not usually what happens when a dominant candidate is considering the race, especially among Maine Democrats – just take a look at 2014, when Mike Michaud didn’t have any primary opponents at all.

Moreover, Pingree is now a well-established member of Congress who’s firmly ensconced in the 1st Congressional District, having first been elected 10 years ago. Ever since the end of her freshman term, Democrats have been stuck in the minority. If she leaves Congress now, she may be passing up the chance for a plum committee assignment or a spot in leadership if Democrats regain the majority – especially given the recent wave of retirements and resignations on Capitol Hill.

If Pingree does decide to enter the race for the Blaine House, she will be taking a big risk – an even bigger risk than Sen. Susan Collins would have taken. Unlike Collins, Pingree would have to give up her seat even to run in the primary. Of course, as with Collins’ decision, if Pingree runs for governor, it would upend not only that election but all of Maine politics next year.

An open 1st District would spawn a fascinating race, especially in the primary. Most of the current Democratic gubernatorial candidates reside within that district, so they could choose to switch gears and run for Congress if they didn’t want to face off against Pingree in the gubernatorial race. They wouldn’t be the only ones to consider the race, though; a variety of other candidates could emerge as contenders, making a potential primary there extremely crowded. Open congressional seats are a rare thing, and the chance to take hold of a relatively safe one will be far too tempting for many Democrats to pass up.

Those candidates who do choose to stay in the gubernatorial race and run against Pingree may have a built-in argument against her simply because she is from the 1st District. Candidates from the 1st District have not done particularly well statewide in recent years: Tom Andrews and Tom Allen both represented the district in the House but failed in U.S. Senate bids, ending their political careers. No Democrat from the 1st District has been elected statewide since Joe Brennan won his second term as governor in 1982. It’s fair to question whether Democrats from southern Maine are simply too liberal for the state as a whole.

This argument can be effective not only against 1st District Democrats generally, but against Pingree specifically, as she easily lost to Susan Collins in her first run for statewide office. While she won’t have to worry about losing to Collins yet again, she’s done little (if anything) to moderate her stances on issues in the years since. If her initial thoughts on the gubernatorial race are any indication, she doesn’t plan on doing so anytime soon, either.

Whether it’s in the primary or in the general election, Pingree will face a tough challenge trying to appeal to moderate and conservative voters statewide. She’ll be risking her whole career on a gamble that she can not only keep her base, but dramatically expand it. That’s a daunting task, which is why Pingree will probably choose to stay in Congress rather than roll the dice.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jimfossel

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: