AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats have the numbers and history on their side to win legislative races. Republicans see voters’ discontent over taxes and state regulations as their secret weapon.
But neither side is predicting which party will win control of the House or Senate when voters have their say Nov. 2.
GOP state Chairman Charles Webster stopped short of making bold predictions, but said, “I’m optimistic we will do far better than anyone expects in the House and Senate.”
“We always take these races very seriously,” said Arden Manning, manager of the Democrats’ Coordinated Campaign.
If history is a valid guide, Democrats have the edge, having won House majorities in every general election since 1974, while Republicans have held the Senate outright for only one two-year period since the 1982 elections. The power of incumbency also favors Democrats, who have 75 House sitting members seeking re-election — nearly twice as many as the Republicans’ 38. Fifteen incumbent Democratic senators are seeking re-election, while 10 sitting Republicans are seeking to regain their seats.
But the GOP’s Webster sees beyond the numbers. He believes his side has better candidates and says they can make their Democratic rivals vulnerable on issues such as taxes and Maine’s business climate, while likening them to their partisans in Congress.
“The Democrats have managed in the past to make it about personalities. We’re changing it this time,” said Webster. “We have three weeks more to educate the public.”
Manning, who believes local issues trump state and national politics in legislative races, played down the potential impact of tea party sentiment as a “two-edged sword.” Some voters may be angry about big government and taxes, but others may be turned off by extreme views, he said.
“We always think national waves are going to hit, but they don’t seem to have an effect on local races,” Manning said.
Republicans’ best hope for a majority is in the Senate, which is now controlled 20-15 by the Democrats.
One of the hottest open races pits termed-out Republican Rep. Sawin Millett of Waterford, a former state finance commissioner who’s played an active role in difficult budget deliberations as a legislator, against John Patrick of Rumford, also a former representative who sat out last session after reaching a four-term limit. The two are vying for a Democratic-held seat.
In the capital area, Augusta Mayor Roger Katz, a Republican, faces Democratic state Rep. Patsy Crockett of Augusta for the seat vacated by Libby Mitchell, the Senate president and Democratic candidate for governor.
A fight for an open Down East seat that’s being vacated by termed-out Democratic Sen. Dennis Damon of Trenton pits James Schatz of Blue Hill, a Democrat who’s finishing three House terms, against Republican Brian Langley of Ellsworth, also a current House member. The Greens’ Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor also is listed as a candidate.
Some interesting challenges to incumbents also are shaping up.
In Portland, Democratic Sen. Lawrence Bliss is facing Republican Joe Palmieri, whose recognition as a former TV news anchor and reporter is high. Democratic Sen. Deborah Simpson of Auburn is facing a challenge by a former senator, Republican Lois Snowe-Mello of Poland.
In the 151-member House, 37 seats are open. Democrats now control the chamber with 94 seats to the Republicans’ 55, one unenrolled member and one vacancy.
The House races feature a dozen in which former lawmakers are seeking their old jobs. Among them is John Michael, the former Democrat-turned-independent who ran for governor in 2002. Now a Republican, Michael is seeking to oust Democratic Rep. Brian Bolduc in an Auburn-area seat. Another 2002 gubernatorial hopeful who served in the House and Senate, Republican James Libby of Buxton, is running against Democratic incumbent Rep. Robert Hunt of Buxton.
A newcomer vying for a House seat is Democrat Emily Mitchell of Vassalboro, daughter of Libby Mitchell. The younger Mitchell faces Karen Foster of Augusta.
And in a central Maine district, a four-way race is shaping up for an open seat. The candidates, all from Fairfield, include Democrat Robert Sezak, Republican John Picchiotti, former Democratic Rep. Paul Tessier, now running unenrolled, and Aaron Blaschke, listed as Common Sense Party.