Allen’s Not-Yet Vacant House Seat Is a Coveted Prize

Posted February 5, 2007 at 6:21pm

The Pine Tree State is crawling with young politicians eager to move up a branch. [IMGCAP(1)]

Talk that Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) will challenge Sen. Susan Collins (R) in 2008 has led numerous current and former state lawmakers from both parties to eye his 1st district seat.

For starters, both of Allen’s previous two Republican challengers would seriously consider a run if the seat was vacant.

Former state Sen. Charlie Summers, a former top aide to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) who lost to Allen 60 percent to 40 percent in 2004, still has a Congressional campaign account open. He began the year with only $14.25 in the bank and still owed himself almost $78,000 from that race.

He told The Associated Press last week that if Allen jumps for the Senate “I’ll be there.”

Former state Rep. Darlene Curley, who lost to Allen 61 percent to 31 percent in November, only had $540 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31.

A new Republican name to surface is that of Steve Abbott, chief of staff to Collins. He has said he would not rule out making a bid for the seat, based in Southern Maine, if Allen opts to take on his boss.

Allen has not definitively said if he will run and has not outlined a time frame for making a decision but no other major Democratic name is being mentioned as a challenger to Collins.

If Allen decides against a Senate race, “then we’d have some recruiting to do,” said one Maine Democrat, who did not want to be named.

Allen reportedly hired Heather Quinn, who managed the 2006 campaign of Maine’s other Congressman, Rep. Mike Michaud (D), this past year to lead his fundraising, should he make a Senate bid.

But she and Michael Cuzzi, who led Allen’s re-election effort, have both decamped to the presidential effort of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

“I don’t really think it’s a setback [for Allen],” said Arden Manning, spokesman for the Maine Democratic Party. “I think there’s a lot of talent out there and a lot of energy on the Democratic side. I don’t think Tom will have any problem finding people” to run a Senate campaign.

Democrats control the state Legislature and the governorship in Maine and presumably have a deeper bench than the GOP.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are also lining up to replace Allen as they anticipate he will run for Senate.

Chellie Pingree announced last week that she would leave her job as president of Common Cause to contemplate a Congressional bid.

Pingree, a former state Senate Majority Leader, lost to Collins, 58 percent to 42 percent, in the 2002 Senate race.

Other current or former legislative leaders are also taking a look at the House seat.

York District Attorney Mark Lawrence, previously the state Senate President, lost to Snowe in 2000. He, along with former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan, are both mulling Congressional bids via exploratory committees.

Brennan toyed with the idea of taking on Snowe last cycle but declined.

Waiting further in the wings are a host of 20-something Democratic legislators.

State Rep. Jeremy Fischer, state House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree — Chellie Pingree’s daughter — and state Rep. Emily Ann Cain are all 30 years old or younger and considered rising party stars, according to a knowledgeable Democrat.

Younger still, but no less promising, according to the source, is Henry Beck, president of the Maine College Democrats and member of the Waterville City Council.

Several more seasoned officeholders also should be added to any list of potential candidates for federal office, the source said.

Former state House Speaker John Richardson (D) still is active in state politics as he currently serves as commissioner of the Maine Economic and Community Development Department.

State Senate President Beth Edmonds likely would be in the mix too, as would state Sens. Phil Bartlett, Ethan Strimling and state House Speaker Glenn Cummings.

Kurt Adams, the state public utilities commissioner, is also known to be interested in federal office.

The 1st district leans Democratic and favored Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) over President Bush 55 percent to 43 percent in 2004.

Several other Republicans are eyeing a open-seat race.

Former state Sen. Philip Harriman is said to be interested, if Allen moves, as is Peter Cianchette, who lost to then-Rep. John Baldacci (D) in the 2002 gubernatorial race.

Dean Scontras, a Republican businessman, also has been talked about as Congressional fodder.

Michaud, who was elected in 2002, is less likely to go anywhere soon, but his district could see a wide-open race if he were to move on.