A Look at Maine

Posted January 24, 2003 at 6:19pm

In an election year that produced few bright spots for national Democrats, Maine was a shinning star in 2002.

Last November, the party won the governor’s office, held control of a competitive open House seat and won a one-vote majority in the previously evenly divided state Senate.

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“Unlike other parts of the nation, Maine had an outstanding cycle,” state Democratic Party Executive Director Barbara Raths said last week. “We just did the inauguration activities for the first time in 16 years, and it felt really good.”

Whether that era of good feeling will continue next cycle, at least at the Congressional level, may depend on what the Pine Tree State’s two House districts look like after they are redrawn this spring.

Maine law did not require new district lines to be drawn before the 2002 elections. A 15-member, bipartisan redistricting commission is responsible for drawing new lines by early April. The commission is awaiting the appointment of a neutral chairman and has yet to meet.

“We’re sort of hoping to be able to settle this matter in the Legislature,” Raths said. “In the past it’s wound up in court.”

But Dwayne Bickford, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, wasn’t as hopeful that the new lines will be decided without judicial help.

“I think based on what happened last time it’s quite possible that it could go to the courts again,” Bickford said. “You put a Republican and a Democrat together in a room and you’re going to get fireworks.”

State population shifts to the south and to the east will force the southeastern 1st district, which contains Portland and Augusta, to shed territory. Southern York County, which borders New Hampshire, and three coastal counties — Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox — gained the most population over the past decade.

“Once you have a shift like that, the districts are going to change,” Raths explained.

The 1st has been represented since 1996 by Rep. Tom Allen (D), who won with 60 percent in 1998 and 2000. He beat Steven Joyce 64 percent to 36 percent last year. However, the seat could become more competitive in 2004 if portions of heavily Democratic areas are removed from the 1st district in order to help shore up the swing 2nd district.

Joyce could run again. Other potential Republican candidates for the seat include state Rep. Kevin Glynn and 2002 gubernatorial nominee Peter Cianchette, who was defeated by then-Rep. John Baldacci (D).

A competitive open-seat race emerged last cycle in the expansive 2nd district, which covers the northern three quarters of the state. Although Baldacci had always been re-elected comfortably, the rural district trends moderate to conservative.

Then-State Senate President Mike Michaud (D), a paper mill worker who is anti-abortion, beat pro-abortion-rights Republican Kevin Raye by 6 points to hold the seat. Michaud won a six-way primary with 31 percent and if the seat were to become vacant again in the near future, several of his Democratic primary opponents would likely seek the seat again.

State Sen. Susan Longley, daughter of a former governor, placed second in the primary, followed by former state Rep. Sean Faircloth and state Sen. John Nutting.

Among the potential Republican candidates who might seek to challenge the freshman Congressman in 2004 are Raye, ex-Bangor Mayor Tim Woodcock and state Sen. Rick Bennett. Raye, a former chief of staff to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), narrowly defeated Woodcock in the 2002 primary, while Bennett, a former state Senate president, is term limited and cannot run for his seat again in 2004.

State legislators are limited to consecutive eight-year terms in each house and must run for re-election every two years.

Republicans may have an easier time recruiting a candidate if President Bush continues to hold high popularity ratings heading into the 2004 presidential election. After voting for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Maine has backed Democratic presidential candidates since and also given Independent candidates healthy votes. The White House believes Bush can do better in Maine in 2004.

If, however, Democrats again come out on top in 2004, it could help boost the party’s recruitment efforts in 2006, when Snowe faces re-election. Snowe, a moderate with high popularity ratings in the state, served in the House for 16 years before being elected in 1994. Her husband, John McKernan (R), is a former two-term governor.

After being hyped early in the cycle, former Secretary of State Chellie Pingree lost by 16 points to Sen. Susan Collins (R) last November despite raising an impressive $4 million for the race. Raths said the 2006 Senate race is too far off to calculate who might consider running for the seat, especially since Snowe’s plans are unknown. If Snowe retires, Raths said, Allen, Michaud and Pingree would all be strong candidates.