Maine Senate 2012: Evolving By The Minute

It has been less than a day since Senator Olympia Snowe announced she was no longer running for re-election, and the situation on the ground remains in flux.  But things are happening behind the scenes, and changing by the minute.

Both Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree are currently gathering signatures for a run, while they consider their options.  I have heard – more than once – that the national Democratic machine is talking to both of them, and putting intense pressure on them to decide between themselves who will run, and who will not run.

The prospect of Michaud and Pingree facing off in a primary is a disaster for the Democratic party.  It would immediately open up both of their House seats, leaving them vulnerable (especially the second district) to Republican takeovers, and setting up a very expensive, very bloody fight for the Senate nomination.  If the eventual Democratic nominee lost, and one or both of the House seats fell, you are looking at an Armageddon situation for Maine (and national) Democrats.

So at this moment both are going through the motions of running, but privately being urged to have one stay put.  My sources are telling me that of the two, surprisingly, Mike Michaud is the more deadly serious about running, and indeed one operative let slip to me this morning that he may have already filed his paperwork to run.  As I suggested last night, things here will move very fast.

But don’t count out Pingree.  A United States Senate seat only comes up once every 15 or 20 years (sometimes longer) in Maine, and this is her shot.  Everyone in the House wants to be a Senator, and Pingree has the itch pretty bad.  There is a very real scenario where they now both run in the primary.

Still, I am hearing that she is happy with her trajectory in the House, is on the cusp of nailing down some leadership positions in the near future, and may want to stay where she is.  Clearly Michaud has higher interest than her at this point.

Additionally, former Governor Baldacci is almost guaranteed to run.  One Democratic activist I talked to said Baldacci is “90% in”, which echoes what I have heard from other Democratic activists close to him.  If both Pingree and Michaud get in, and are joined by Baldacci, we are in for a wild ride.

Speaking of wild rides, a source close to Angus King tells me this morning that King is “seriously considering” a run.  Unlike Pingree and Michaud, however, he has more time to mull it over as his filing deadline is June 1st.  This is the first indication that King may be seriously running, because up to this point his name has mostly been dropped by people simply speculating.  This is more substantial than that.

I’m also hearing increased chatter that Cutler may take a pass.  I remain convinced that this Senate race is a much better slot for Cutler than a 2014 gubernatorial contest, but let’s never forget that Cutler is on the record stating that it was his lifelong ambition from childhood to be Governor of Maine.  His desire to settle the score with LePage and run in two years may dissuade him from taking a shot at the race this time.

Interesting talk circulating around Steve Abbott, as well.  Last night I heard a resounding chorus of “no, no, no” from most GOP political operatives.  This morning, sources very close to Abbott are starting to say “maybe, maybe, maybe.”  The key to his potential candidacy will be Peter Cianchette.

If Cianchette runs, Abbott will almost certainly pass on the race and support him.  If Cianchette doesn’t run, the door remains wide open for Abbott, and he would have every reason to jump into the race.

Abbott would be a perfect fit for this race in virtually every way.  He is unquestionably more fiscally conservative than Senator Snowe, which would undoubtedly make many of her critics happy, but has the same social moderation, which is important for the general election.

He has the political connections, ability to raise money, experience, and intelligence to make one of the most formidable candidates on the Republican side, and as I mentioned yesterday, his time at the University of Maine has extended a great deal more credibility to him, and rounded out his public personality.

Look for one of the two – Abbott or Cianchette – to get in, and rally a substantial amount of support behind them, perhaps clearing the field.  Right now, the early money is on Cianchette…

Bruce Poliquin is increasingly likely to jump in.  Source very close to the Treasurer tells me he is “likely to very likely” to jump in, and characterizes the potential House race as a complete waste of time.  With Pingree potentially staying put, that decision becomes all the easier for him.

This all changes the calculus significantly for Kevin Raye as well.  With Michaud almost certainly taking the plunge for Senate, the second district race becomes his to lose if he stays put.  The virtual guarantee of a House seat is a very attractive idea, and would position Raye well for a Senate run whenever Susan Collins retires.

More to come.


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.