All Eyes On Kevin Raye

Among the worst kept secrets in Maine politics today is that Kevin Raye is running for Congress again, in a ten year anniversary re-match with Mike Michaud.

I’ve heard no end of confirmations from members of Raye’s own staff, members of Congressman Michaud’s staff, Republican activists and leaders, and just about anyone who I ask.  So say they all, “It’s pretty much all said and done, Raye is just waiting to make it official.”

When then 2nd district Congressman John Baldacci left Congress to run for Governor in 2002, Raye, whose claim to fame at that point in his career was being Chief of Staff to Senator Olympia Snowe and a business owner, took on then Senate President Mike Michaud in a hotly contested matchup.  It was a quirky race with a pro-choice Republican running against a (at least at the time) pro-life Democrat, and in the end, Raye fell short by just 9,000 votes (52% – 48%).

Since that time, Michaud has built and maintained a very solid base in his district, and proven to be a strong campaigner.  He has been blessed with a litany of weak opponents – most glaringly in 2006 (Scott D’Amboise) and 2008 (John Frary) – which gave the illusion of greater strength than he actually had, but none the less he has a reliable and powerful set of coalitions behind him that make him formidable for anyone.

Raye has also done a lot of work in the meantime.  Rather than take Michaud on again in 2004, he decided to run for (and win) a seat in the Maine Senate.  Since that time, Raye has steadily risen, eventually becoming minority leader, and then the first Republican Senate President in roughly a decade.  He basically put his nose to the grindstone and built for himself a much more impressive political base over eight years.  His political instincts aren’t perfect, of course, he did endorse Les Otten for Governor last year.

Jason Levesque has been quite forthright about considering a re-match with Michaud, but were he to again be the nominee in 2012, he would undoubtedly be in a much more difficult position than he was last year.  The electorate will be energized by the presidential contest, the Democrats will be more organized, the Republicans likely less, and it is difficult to find anything that will make it easier for Levesque to beat Michaud this time around.  The only thing going for him would be the fact that he had run before, perhaps learned some lessons, and had a base to start with that he did not have last time.

But still, it would be a very heavy lift for Levesque to run against Michaud.  (Notice how I said “against Michaud” there.  More on that in a future article.)

With or without Levesque’s presence, Raye would undoubtedly be the top tier candidate to take on Michaud.  Raye is a much (much) stronger candidate than he was in 2002, and presents interesting challenges for Michaud.

Indeed, unlike the last race when Raye had virtually no name identification among voters, he now has had his name in the papers for years.

Instead of being tagged with Olympia Snowe’s positions on everything as he was in 2002, Raye now has a genuine legislative record of his own to run on.

And interestingly, he has the unique and very helpful dual identity as the man who is sheparding conservative legislation through the Maine Senate, as well as the moderating “adult voice” bringing stability and thoughtfulness to state government during the most volatile periods this spring in which Governor Paul LePage was quite literally killing his own legislative agenda.

Being viewed as more conservative than he was last time, while also being more moderate and reasonable than LePage is the perfect place for him to be in for a potential run for Congress in that district.

And the biggest problem the conservative base will have with him, being pro-choice, will essentially be irrelevant in the general election against Michaud, who has trended pro-choice over the years.  It isn’t as if pro-life voters are really taking Michaud seriously as a pro-life candidate anymore.  Interestingly, given Raye’s openly pro-choice nature, he has the potential to be endorsed by groups – such as Planned Parenthood of Northern New England – that traditionally line up behind the Democrat nominee.

None of this is to suggest that Raye is guaranteed to win, or that he is even favored.  This is going to be a difficult race for both men, and in all likelihood will come down to a few thousand votes and less than 5 percentage points, no matter who wins.

But make no mistake, he’s in the race.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.