AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine voters will have no shortage of choices as they select a successor to Gov. John Baldacci next year. The crowded mix of candidates includes seasoned State House insiders, business leaders who have been hitting the pavement hard for months, and candidates to match every ideological stripe.
Twenty-one candidates have registered as contestants for the open seat as Democrat Baldacci completes his second, four-year term. The field will grow even larger as more announcements are made in the coming days.
“I’m surprised and intrigued by how large the field is,” said Jim McGregor, a State House lobbyist who served as chief of staff for independent Gov. James Longley in the 1970s. McGregor said the stampede of candidates may be drawn into the race by the challenge of leading Maine out of the recession.
On the Democratic side, the most politically prominent candidates who have filed with state campaign overseers include former Attorney General G. Steven Rowe of Portland and Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell of Vassalboro, who like Rowe also has served as House speaker.
Making a return run for the Republican nomination after a No. 2 finish in 2006 will be another state senator, Peter Mills of Cornville. Entrepreneur Les Otten of Greenwood is in, and businessmen Matthew Jacobson of Cumberland and Bruce Poliquin of Georgetown have been actively campaigning for months.
Although the primaries are seven months off and the election nearly a year away, it’s about the right time for candidates to jump into the race, said Maine Democratic Party Executive Director Arden Manning.
“Campaigns are starting earlier in general. We think it’s good for our party to have a big primary because it brings new ideas into the mix,” said Manning.
John Richardson of Brunswick, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development and a former House speaker, is a safe bet to join in the race soon. Another Democrat and member of Baldacci’s Cabinet, Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan, hints he’ll jump in too, saying, “I’m still looking at it. If I were in the race I’d be the most tested candidate.”
McGowan referred to his nail-biter congressional runs in which he came up short of unseating Republican then-Rep. Olympia Snowe in 1990 and ’92 in the 2nd District.
Another Democrat, Portland businesswoman Rosa Scarcelli, kicked off her campaign in August. Second-term state Rep. Dawn Hill of Cape Neddick is also in the race, as is former Biddeford mayor Donna Dion.
Democrats Peter Truman and Eriq Manson, both of Old Orchard Beach, have registered as candidates.
State Sen. G. William Diamond of Windham, a former secretary of state, was talked about as a possible candidate but says he’s definitely not running.
And Diamond, who helped guide the Appropriations Committee through some of the meanest fiscal times in recent state history, has some advice for those who want to become the state’s chief executive: The fiscal crisis is likely to extend into 2013. And whoever wins “will not be popular,” he said.
Maine’s GOP chairman thinks chances are good voters will put the first Republican in the Blaine House since John McKernan served between 1987 and 1995.
“We’ve got some credible people,” said Charles Webster, who lost in an eight-way GOP gubernatorial primary in 1994. “If you can’t elect a Republican governor after two years of [President Barack] Obama, you never can.”
Webster believes taxes will be a central issue as the campaign moves from a phase where candidates get their names out to where issues get discussed — and specifically a tax overhaul that was approved by the Legislature last spring and is being challenged in a June people’s veto vote.
Waterville Mayor Paul LePage announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination in September with a smaller-government appeal. Steve Abbott, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, classified himself last week as a “potential candidate” and said he’s seriously considering a run.
Martin Vachon of Mariaville rounds out the list of GOP candidates.
Among the Green Independents, Lynne Williams, a lawyer from Bar Harbor, has been making numerous public appearances around the state. Fellow Green Patrick Quinlan, a novelist from Gorham, is listed as a candidate but says he’s leaning away from running.
Nonparty candidates include Samme Bailey of Gorham, Beverly Cooper-Pete of Portland, Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth, Augustus Edgerton of Bangor, Alex Hammer of Bangor and John Whitcomb of Sidney.
Of all of the candidates who have registered so far, 14 are funding their campaigns with private donations while seven intend to qualify for public funding through the Maine Clean Election Act.