The Maine Event

Big Fields Expected in Both Parties as Allen’s Seat Becomes a Prize

Posted May 14, 2007 at 6:46pm

Four Democrats are off and running to replace Rep. Tom Allen (D) in Maine’s 1st district.

Last week Allen made official his challenge to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), even though it had been clear for months. Some of his would-be successors had campaigns ready to launch and only saved filing their candidate papers with the Federal Election Commission until after Allen’s kickoff.

Former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan (D) dropped the pretense that there was any chance Allen would seek a seventh term in the House when he declared himself a candidate last month.

“There’s been quite a bit of activity since the beginning of January,” Brennan acknowledged. “Everybody is engaged in fundraising and trying to put together organizational structures.”

For his part, Brennan said he will soon hire more staff and has begun interviewing Washington, D.C.-based political and media consultants.

Chellie Pingree, a former state Senator who moved back to Maine and resigned her post as head of watchdog group Common Cause in February to run for Allen’s seat, said she expects the field to grow.

“We have a tradition in Maine of pretty crowded primaries,” she said. “We don’t get many open seats. I’d be surprised if there aren’t several people in the primary [ultimately].”

Pingree, like Brennan, filed with the FEC in April.

“The more people on the ballot, the better for the party,” said Arden Manning, executive director of the Maine Democratic Party.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the state party have pledged to stay out of next June’s primary. And Allen is not expected to wield his influence before the primary either.

“There are a lot of strong Democratic candidates, and we’re not going to get involved in the primary,” said Carrie James, a DCCC spokeswoman.

The 1st district, which includes Portland and Augusta, Maine’s most populous city, leans Democratic.

Allen first won the seat in 1996. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) took 55 percent of the 2004 presidential vote, while former Vice President Al Gore won 50 percent to President Bush’s 43 percent in 2000.

But Republicans warned Democrats against assuming that the seat will stay in their column after Election Day.

“A Republican can win the 1st district,” said Steve Abbott, Collins’ chief of staff who is mulling a Congressional bid himself. “It’s definitely better to be a Democrat than a Republican, I don’t contest that. But the district is liberal more than it is partisan and I think people confuse that, particularly the D.C. interest groups that spend money up here.”

Abbott pointed out that Gov. John Baldacci (D) secured re-election last year with just 38 percent of the vote in a five-way race. Furthermore, the 1st supported Republican Peter Cianchette against Baldacci in 2002.

“Maine votes for Independents, Republicans, Democrats … we voted for Ross Perot” in the 1992 presidential election, Abbott noted. (In fact, Perot finished second in the state to Bill Clinton that year, with 30 percent of the vote.)

No Republican has filed for the seat yet, but four others, in addition to Abbott, are said to be interested: state Sen. Jonathan Courtney, Dean Scontras, state Rep. Darlene Curley and former state Sen. Charles Summers, a former aide to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

On the Democratic side, Brennan and Pingree aren’t the only top contenders.

York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence (D) threw his hat into the ring shortly after Allen’s announcement last Wednesday.

Adam Cote (D), a Maine National Guardsman and Iraq War veteran, got into the race Friday.

“Having served in Iraq and Bosnia previously and coming from a working family, I’ve just been increasingly frustrated with the disconnect between what goes on in the real world and what goes on in the Washington Beltway,” the attorney and first-time candidate said.

“There are not a lot of people running for office with real world experience,” Cote added. “There are 535 people debating the Iraq War in Congress right now, but only one has served there.”

Former Portland Mayor Jill Duson (D) formed an exploratory committee, and state Sen. Ethan Strimling also is eyeing the Democratic nod.

The race features a number of people who previously have sought federal office.

For instance, Lawrence lost to Snowe in 2000 and Pingree failed to dislodge Collins in 2002.

“There’s really no one in the state who can say who they think is going to win it with this many people,” one Maine Democratic operative, who did not want to be named, said of the primary.

On the Republican side, both Summers and Curley have lost to Allen.

Last year Curley won 31 percent of the vote, while Summers took 40 percent in 2004.

Both still owe themselves for personal loans made to their campaigns.

Curley had almost $4,000 in the bank as of March 31, according to her latest FEC report. She loaned her campaign $43,500, which has not been paid back.

Summers had just $14 in his war chest and was owed almost $78,000.