Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) said Wednesday that he is “seriously considering” running for Senate in 2008, and political watchers in the Pine Tree State say he looks and acts like someone preparing for a Senate bid.
Allen raised more than $930,000 in the previous cycle but spent only about half of it dispensing with two challengers on his way to securing a sixth term with 61 percent of the vote.
He also has been spending more time outside of his Portland-based 1st district and is “mending fences” with sportsmen’s groups, according to Christian Potholm, a political consultant and government professor at Maine’s Bowdoin College.
“Tom Allen is already raising money for a Senate run,” Potholm said. “He certainly is off and running from all the things people tell me.”
Allen presumably would square off with the state’s junior Senator, Susan Collins (R), who has said she intends to seek a third term.
“I’m seriously considering a Senate race in 2008,” Allen said.
Democrats, eager to build on the gains they made in the Northeast in the midterm elections, would like to seriously challenge Collins, one of the few Republican moderates left in Congress.
“I think it’s clear [that] unless Republicans and the president are going to show a change in the way they are leading, which I don’t think we’re seeing clear indications of so far ... Republican incumbents are going to have problems in 2008,” said Ben Dudley, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.
“I think [Allen] would be a terrific candidate,” Dudley continued. “We would love to see someone of Tom’s accomplishments and skill step forward for something like this.”
By all accounts, other would-be Democratic challengers to Collins are waiting to see what Allen will do. Dudley said no other possible contenders have discussed a Senate bid with him.
If Allen decides not to run, speculation has centered on state Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan (D) and state Attorney General Steven Rowe (D).
Allen said he has “had conversations with a number of people” about running, though he would not say if Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) was one of them. However, he said he will “make decisions later.”
He did not elaborate on when later would be and has not set a deadline for making a decision.
The DSCC did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Allen and Dudley both believe that Collins could be hurt by breaking the pledge she made to serve no more than two terms when she was first elected in 1996.
“I’d like to take Senator Collins at her word that she only intends to serve two terms,” Dudley said. “However, if she’s going to break her promise to the people of Maine, I have a very strong feeling we can mount a very credible opposition to returning her to her minority position in the U.S. Senate.”
Allen said beyond breaking a pledge, Collins will be hurt by her affiliation with the national GOP.
“Susan Collins promised to only serve two terms, we’ve been in our respective offices for 10 years, and this is really about leadership for me,” he said. “We have very different voting records.”
As a result of Democrats winning control of Congress on Nov. 7, Collins will lose her chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee come January.
Dudley said that also hurts her.
“She lost her chairmanship; she’s in a minority position,” he said. “She won’t be able to perform for Maine the way she has been able to.”
Steve Abbott, Collins’ chief of staff, said none of those factors will affect Collins’ re-election bid.
“It’s not going to hurt her at all,” he said of the term-limit pledge. “I think people are very happy to have her as their Senator.”
As for her party affiliation, “you just have to look at her record,” he said, noting her reputation as a moderate and consensus-builder in Maine.
Potholm agreed that Maine voters have a positive perception of Collins.
“She’s obviously, extremely highly thought of,” he said. “She projects the kind of moderate stance voters like.”
That said, the midterm elections, during which Democrats picked up 29 seats in the Maine House to take control of the chamber (while losing one seat in the state Senate, which they already controlled), demonstrated how unhappy voters were with Republican control nationally and locally, Maine Democrats say.
A few months ago, Potholm said he thought Collins’ re-election would be a “slam-dunk.” Now, he says is not so sure.
Allen faces some hurdles, too, should he decide to run.
He is barely known in the sprawling 2nd district, which geographically is the biggest Congressional district east of the Mississippi River. He also did not run any television ads in the previous cycle. That saved him money but also prevented him from introducing himself to 2nd district voters, said one Maine Republican operative who did not want to be named.
To reach some parts of Allen’s district by television, he would have had to buy airtime in the Bangor market, which also serves the vast northern 2nd district. He had $440,000 in his campaign account as of Oct. 18; Collins had $392,000 in the bank on Sept. 30.
“Tom Allen is a strong Congressman, but can he translate his strengths from the southern part to the northern part of the state?” Potholm asked.
Nonetheless, Potholm said Allen probably is the strongest candidate Democrats can find.
“Susan could get close to a pass or a very weak [opponent] if Tom Allen doesn’t run,” he observed.