It might be a tad early, but it’s time to begin considering the state of play for Maine’s 2022 election cycle.

The biggest race on the docket is sure to be the race for the Blaine House, where everyone seems to be presuming that Janet Mills will be running for re-election and the likely Republican nominee will be former Gov. Paul LePage. It’s easy to see why everyone’s making those assumptions – Maine governors tend to run for re-election, and LePage has been talking about running practically since the day he left office – but those presumptions could be mistaken.

First up, while there have been some rumbles that Mills might forgo a race or face a stiff primary challenge within her party, both scenarios seem exceedingly unlikely at this point. The last time any Maine governor opted not to run for re-election was James Longley in 1978, and he was an independent honoring a promise he’d made to serve only one term. Since then, not only has every Maine governor always run for re-election, they’ve always been successful.

While conservatives may be critical of her handling of the pandemic, and liberals may pine for someone in the Blaine House who’s more progressive, neither is likely to be a large enough factor politically to dissuade her from running again. Those on the right who have criticized her during the pandemic would most likely criticize her no matter what she’d done, and any opposition she faces on the left isn’t likely to be organized enough to matter. It’s worth remembering that in the 2018 primaries, she cruised to the nomination over a number of more liberal opponents – and she’s done nothing to upset the base enough to change that outcome, especially with the power of an incumbent.

That’s not to say she won’t face a competitive re-election campaign. If she does, though, it will be in the general election, not during the primary.

The wide expectation on the Republican side is that former Gov. Paul LePage will challenge her for re-election, and if he did, he’d be a strong candidate for a number of reasons. After serving as governor for eight years, he has a vast network of political contacts and donors, both within Maine and nationally in the Republican Party. He’s a rare figure – both in Maine and nationally – who’s generally well-liked by both traditional conservatives and by voters energized by former President Donald Trump.

Still, as hard as it may be to believe, there are Donald Trump supporters who are unhappy with Paul LePage, or who are at least pretending to be. You might be overwhelmed by the avalanche of political texts and calls – raise your hand if you wish they’d ended immediately after the Georgia Senate special elections – but if you’re a Republican, you might’ve been getting a special series of texts focused on Maine politics.

They’ve been trying to make it appear as if there’s some sort of rift between LePage and Trump, which is pretty ridiculous on its face: LePage has been more supportive of Trump than any other major political figure in the state. It’s hard to believe there’s a lane in the primary for someone more pro-Trump than LePage, but someone seems to think so.

The true opening against LePage would probably be from the centrist wing of the Maine Republican Party. It’s not clear who might take up that mantle: Former elected officials who either consistently battled LePage or openly opposed Trump wouldn’t have much chance. Instead, it would have to be someone who hasn’t done that, but who also hasn’t been a constant cheerleader for either of them. If a more centrist conservative wanted to make inroads against LePage, the best option would be a fresh face who wanted to make a name for themselves, but they’d have to raise serious money, and that would be tough.

The real question is whether LePage is serious about running for governor again. That might seem absurd, but he’s hinted at running for office before with no follow-through: against Angus King, against Susan Collins in a primary and for U.S. Congress. His potential campaign may turn out to be real this time, or it may not, but regardless, he’s bound to exert a huge degree of influence over the race – just as Trump will over the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Neither of them is likely to be completely done with politics quite yet.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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