The question is whether Maine Democrat Rosa Scarcelli, a 41-year-old CEO who describes her recent gubernatorial bid as “one of the best experiences of my adult life,” will run against the state’s most popular elected official, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, in 2012.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the moderate Snowe will face her toughest challenge from the right. But as Maine’s fractured tea party movement struggles to rally around a primary challenger, Scarcelli has emerged as the strongest Democrat on a very short list of legitimate general election foes.
In a recent interview with Roll Call, she flatly said that she wants to run again for higher office.
“My feeling is I have a lot to offer,” Scarcelli said. “I think I would be a tremendous leader if I was ever given the opportunity to serve.”
She has been politically active in the months since her primary loss, raising money for the state Democratic Party, regularly contributing to Maine opinion pages and maintaining a blog on RosaforMaine.com. Maine Democratic leaders are convinced that Scarcelli — who is well-spoken, well-financed and well-connected to the business community — has the tools to win.
The Stanford Management chief executive spent more than $500,000 from her own pocket to compete in Maine’s crowded Democratic primary in 2010, finishing in third place, just 1 point behind the state attorney general. And she quickly dismisses questions about self-funding a future run for higher office.
“Resources wouldn’t be a factor,” she said.
It seems that the only factor is viability. Some Democrats privately say the race is unwinnable for any candidate because he or she would face a powerful three-term incumbent.
“I wouldn’t run just to run,” Scarcelli said. “I would only run if I believed in my chances to win.”
And that’s a big “if.”
Even as local tea party activists insist their top priority is “Snowe removal,” Democrats concede that the Senator enjoys tremendous support from across the political spectrum, even from Democrats. Her 56 percent approval rating, reported by Public Policy Polling just before the midterm elections, was the highest among Maine’s Congressional delegation.
Democrats’ best chance, according to Scarcelli, will come if Snowe shifts her positions sharply to the right to fend off a primary challenge. But at this point, Scarcelli went so far as to say that she’s “proud” of her potential opponent.
Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) “are both good moderates,” Scarcelli said. “Olympia’s challenge right now, her fear is that she will have a very conservative opponent. My concern for all of us is that she’s going to have to tack far to the right to maintain her base. But I am proud of our women Senators. It would be a tremendous challenge to run for her seat. But if there’s a primary challenge, it’s something we need to look hard at, whether it’s me or someone else.”
While candidates have already begun to launch Senate bids in other states, there has been virtually no effort to recruit Maine Democrats to challenge Snowe so far. Roll Call Politics rates this race Leans Republican.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) has shown no interest, although her daughter, the outgoing term-limited state Speaker Hannah Pingree, and state House Minority Leader Emily Cain are considered possibilities. So far, only Scarcelli has acknowledged seriously considering a bid.
The Farmington native always had an interest in politics — at 17 years old, she served as a Senate page for the man who would become her mentor, Maine Sen. George Mitchell (D). Her interest grew into a passion during her primary campaign, cementing the idea that she would again run for higher office.
There are limited opportunities, however.
“There’s 2012 and 2014,” Scarcelli said of Snowe’s seat or another run for governor. “As a chief executive and someone who’s been managing people since the age of 16, I think my strength will be in that type of role [the governor’s office]. My experience lends itself to that. Not that I would not entertain going to Washington — being one of a 100 is certainly interesting, but you’re legislating in a very different way.”
Whatever office she chooses to seek, the rigors of life on the campaign trail won’t be a deterrent.
“I would say that I enjoyed the experience of campaigning. It was a tremendously wonderful experience,” said Scarcelli, a mother of three. “It was like getting my Ph.D. — it was an opportunity to learn about myself, the issues, and how to connect with people and listen and learn. It was one of the best experiences of my adult life.”