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Pack of Politicians Mull Run for Snowe’s Seat

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Chellie Pingree is only one of many Maine politicians considering a bid for the Senate seat that Olympia Snowe will vacate at the end of this Congress.

The Maine political world was still reeling Wednesday, 24 hours after Sen. Olympia Snowe's retirement announcement, as politicians up and down the ballot mulled their political future.

The open Senate seat sets up the very real possibility that two House Members, Democratic Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, will run against each other in their party's June 12 primary. And that scenario creates the possibility that the state will also have two open House seats.

Pingree told Roll Call that she would spend time with her family deciding on a run and make a decision over the weekend. A source in Michaud's campaign said that a decision should come in the next few days.

Pingree also indicated she is making her decision independently from Michaud's deliberations.

"I would hate to have either of us in the position where we lose our Congressional seat back at home, and I know he's weighing that heavily as am I," Pingree said.

"The truth is, I was in a six-way Democratic primary before I got to this Congressional seat," she added. "I've run against good friends and foes, and that's just part of what happens in politics, but it's a decision that both of us have to make individually."

The first step in running for office in Maine is "taking out papers," which means obtaining petitions from the secretary of state's office in order to gather the necessary qualifying signatures. Senate candidates must gather 2,000 signatures by the March 15 filing deadline.

Pingree and Michaud have taken that step, but sources in their campaigns said the looming deadline meant that each had to move ahead with their organizations even though neither has made a definitive decision.

Former Gov. John Baldacci (D), also a former House Member, is collecting signatures to run as well, according to the Maine secretary of state's office. He will be a formidable contender if he ultimately enters the race.

Liberals leaped at the Snowe retirement news. Just hours after the story broke, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee sent emails for a "Draft Pingree" drive. MoveOn.org jumped out front in supporting Pingree as well.

A source close to Pingree described the liberal push as "truly organic."

Republicans were caught completely off guard by Snowe's move, which prompted Roll Call to change the rating of the race from Safe Republican to Tossup.

Still, several would-be GOP candidates are eyeing Snowe's seat.

State Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster has been in touch with at least seven individuals seriously considering running for the seat.

Those pondering runs include former gubernatorial candidate and Ambassador Peter Cianchette, ex-state House GOP Leader Josh Tardy, University of Maine Athletic Director Steve Abbott, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, businessman Les Otten, former state Sen. Peter Mills, state Senate President Kevin Raye and state Attorney General Bill Schneider.

Scott D'Amboise is a long-shot candidate already running for the GOP nomination, but state and national Republicans are downplaying his candidacy.

Adding to the chaos, former Gov. Angus King (I) told Roll Call that he is "actively considering" running for the seat. In the past, King has done well in state polls in favorability ratings and name recognition.

King gave no indication as to which party he might caucus with if he ran and won the seat.

Another Independent considering a run is former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler. Cutler has received calls urging him to run but remains undecided, according to Ted O'Meara, an operative who has worked for both him and Snowe.

O'Meara also said Cutler will likely not run if King jumps in. Cutler nearly beat Gov. Paul LePage (R) in the three-way 2010 gubernatorial race.

A candidate unaffiliated with a major party will have until June 12 to gather 4,000 signatures to qualify for the general election ballot. Because of the pushed-back filing deadline, there is much less urgency among the Independents.

A King or Cutler campaign could throw off the traditional partisan calculations that are made in a Senate race. Independents have a history of winning in the state. Democrats and Republicans are reluctant to discuss the effect that an Independent campaign could have on the way they plot their strategies.

O'Meara said that Cutler and King are unique personalities and that Maine's embrace of Independents does not extend to the possible open House races.

Michaud already had a competitive race on his hands against Raye, the state Senate president who is now considering a Senate run.

"We have a pretty good farm team," Webster said. Both he and national Republicans insist that if Raye opts to run for Senate, they have ready House candidates.

Webster also said he was flummoxed that the Democratic Party would leave "both flanks exposed" with the possibility of two open House seats.

Michaud's 2nd district is much more at risk than the 1st, and operatives from both parties agree that should he run for Senate, the seat will be much harder for Democrats to hold.

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