An internal poll from Raye's campaign released last week showed him far ahead of the two other GOP candidates — thanks in large part to his high name recognition in the district. Meanwhile, Maine Office of Policy and Management Director Richard Rosen, a top Republican who had been eyeing a bid, appears poised to stay out of the GOP primary, according to local sources.
"The fact is that Kevin Raye looks like he is the presumptive front-runner of the seat, and that’s a big deal for Republicans up here," said one Maine GOP operative unaffiliated with any candidates in the race. "It’s been a long time since we've held that seat."
The GOP last held the 2nd District in 1994, when then-Rep. Olympia Snowe left the seat to run for Senate. This cycle's rare opening in Maine meant several Republicans looked at running in the competitive district. President Barack Obama won 53 percent of the vote in the district in 2012, making it a tempting target for Republicans in 2014.
Just four months ago, the GOP field came close to hosting five candidates — with Rosen all-but-certain to run and another state lawmaker, Alex Willette, also in the race. But Willette dropped out at the end of August, tea party activist Blaine Richardson raised a paltry $2,000 for the contest and Rosen now looks like he's going to sit the race out.
At the request of Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage, Rosen, a former state senator, identified $34 million in potential cuts in the state budget this fall. In August, Rosen said
in the state budget this fall. In August, Rosen said he was looking at a bid for the open 2nd District seat, and would make a decision by the fall.
Rosen did not return request for comment on whether he has made a decision on the race, but local GOP operatives say he is likely to sit the race out.
"His name has been in the mix in this for the while but he hasn’t made any overt moves toward running for the seat," the Maine GOP strategist said. "People are starting to conclude that he’s not running."
Operatives added that the poll commissioned by Raye's campaign could further dissuade Rosen from running.
The poll, conducted by GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies, found Raye with a wide lead in the field, which currently also includes former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and Richardson. The survey tested a three-way primary, which showed Raye with 45 percent, Poliquin with 19 percent and Richardson with 5 percent.
If Rosen entered the contest, Raye would still dominate the GOP field, according to the poll. In a four-way race, the survey showed Raye with 42 percent, Poliquin with 18 percent, Rosen with 5 percent and Richardson with 3 percent.
That part of the poll surveyed 310 likely GOP primary voters from Nov. 4 to Nov. 5 and had a margin of error of 5.6 percent.
On the Democratic side, three candidates are currently vying for the seat: state Sens. Emily Cain and Troy Jackson, as well as veteran Alden Smith.
Raye's poll found he had a wide lead over Cain and Jackson. In a hypothetical matchup with Cain, Raye led 45 percent to 31 percent, according to the poll. Against Jackson, Raye leads 45 percent to 30 percent.
The general election portion of the poll surveyed 400 likely voters and had a margin of error of 4.9 percent.
To be sure, some of Raye's lead is attributable to his high name identification in the district. In the survey of likely general election voters, 67 percent of voters said they knew of Raye. He has run for this seat twice before, including in 2012 when he lost to Democratic Rep. Michael H. Michaud by a large margin.
On the Democratic side, 42 percent of voters said they were familiar with Cain, while 27 percent said they were familiar with Jackson, according to the poll.
The open-seat race was sparked when Michaud announced a gubernatorial bid in the Pine Tree State.
Maine's 2nd District is rated a Democrat Favored contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.