AUGUSTA, Maine — Long relegated to the legislative minority, Maine Republicans see an opportunity to capitalize on voters’ midterm discontent and rebuild their numbers in the House and Senate in November’s elections.
Most of the attention so far has been drawn by Maine’s crowded gubernatorial contest. But with a month to go before the March 15 deadline for legislative candidates to file their nominating petitions with state election officials, and four months to go before the primaries, the field is still incomplete and fluid.
However, the list of those who’ve filed so far with state campaign regulators gives at least an outline of the races on tap, especially in the Senate, where Democrats have a 20-15 majority.
Republicans are hoping to regain a Senate majority they’ve had for a two-year term only once since 1982 elections. Democrats have virtually owned the House, with a record of Election Day majorities going back to 1974.
“I think we can win either branch. I think the people of Maine are finally getting it,” said Maine Republican Chairman Charles Webster. While not promising a GOP candidate in each of the 151 House seats and all 35 in the Senate, Webster said he’s confident of getting the slate his party needs to be successful.
Among the notable Republican challengers is former Bangor Mayor — and current school committee member — Nichi Farnham, who has filed her paperwork to challenge Sen. Joseph Perry, D-Bangor, for the District 32 Senate seat.
Rep. Paul Davis of Sangerville, who’s recruiting for the Republicans, said voters are clamoring for changes. “I’ve never heard this level of anger toward government and those in power,” Davis said.
Typically, the out-of-power party is poised to gain seats in both houses in midterm elections. That’s just what Republicans hope to do at the U.S. Capitol, and Maine Republicans hope to ride the wave in the State House, as well.
But House Speaker Hannah Pingree, chairwoman of the Democrats’ House campaign effort, dismissed the voter disenchantment effect and said winning has more to do with recruitment and hard work.
Maine Democratic Executive Director Arden Manning, who’s stepping down from his post to head the party’s 2010 coordinated campaign effort, promised his party will contest every House and Senate seat.
Each party will lose 10 incumbents to term limits, but with their sizable majority Democrats will be less affected by the loss of incumbent candidates, said Pingree, who will be termed-out herself.
“We feel very good we will maintain our majority and feel strongly we can keep it where it is now,” said Pingree, of North Haven.
In the Senate, state filings last week showed the Democrats with 28 Senate candidates and Republicans with 27. The Democrats’ slate was bolstered by 16 incumbents who are seeking re-election. In addition, the emerging Democratic slate offers some current House members who’ve reached their four-term limit or are hoping to fill slots of other Senate Democrats who aren’t running.
State Reps. John Piotti of Union and Nancy Smith of Monmouth, who are both termed-out, are hoping to capture Republican-held Senate seats in November.
Republicans’ latest list shows 10 Senate incumbents set to defend their seats. In addition, some sitting, former or termed-out Republican lawmakers are signed up to run for Senate seats. They include former Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello of Poland and termed-out Rep. Thomas Saviello of Wilton. Current House members seeking Sen-ate seats include Reps. Brian Langley of Ellsworth and Michael Thibodeau of Winterport.
Also notable among the Senate hopefuls are an independent former House member, Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth.
Of all of the Senate candidates from both parties so far, only seven intend to raise campaigns from private donors while the rest are trying to qualify for public funding.