E-mailed statements began arriving at about 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, half an hour after U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe shocked Maine’s political world by announcing she would not seek a fourth Senate term.
Most of the statements expressed disbelief — disbelief that a senator of such clout, a senator who was all-but-assured of being re-elected, would end her 33-year career in Congress this way.
It didn’t take long for those statements to offer a glimpse of what could happen next in the race for Snowe’s Senate seat — and the state’s two congressional seats.
Maine Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry, a GOP candidate in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, was Snowe’s chief of staff for seven years. His statement, sent at 6 p.m., reflected on that experience and ended with this: “In light of Olympia’s decision, my wife Karen and I will carefully weigh our plans for 2012.”
Raye’s 2nd District opponent, Mike Michaud, who has held the 2nd District seat for 10 years, issued a statement at 6:52 p.m. that ended with stronger language: “I’m seriously considering entering the race. I plan to make a final decision in the coming days.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a two-term Democrat running for re-election in Maine’s 1st Congressional District, also hinted in her statement that she might enter the race.
“This upcoming election is critical to the future of our working families around the country, and in the coming days I will carefully consider how I can best serve the people of Maine,” Pingree said.
Not long after Pingree commented, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee launched an effort to draft her into the race. The PCCC was partially responsible for encouraging Democrat Elizabeth Warren to challenge Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts.
Another big-name Democrat, two-term governor and four-term U.S. House member John Baldacci still has political life left in him and many believe he could run.
A seat that New York Times’ political blogger and analyst Nate Silver estimated had an 85 percent chance of staying Republican with Snowe in the race turned into a 20-30 percent chance for the GOP with her gone, he said on Twitter.
Maine Democrats, who haven’t held a Senate seat since 1994, when George Mitchell retired, are salivating over an opportunity that unexpectedly landed in their lap.
“Maine is now a top pick up opportunity for Senate Democrats. If there is one place in the country that is likely to reject the extreme, anti-middle class, divisive Republican agenda it is Maine,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil said in a statement sent at 5:33 p.m.
Maine Republicans, who have put that Senate seat in the locked up column as long as Snowe planned to serve, now are scrambling to find a candidate who can fill her shoes, even though one Republican, Scott D’Amboise, already is in the mix.
Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster admitted Tuesday that he doesn’t expect D’Amboise to be his party’s nominee.
The list of GOP names mentioned so far is long and includes: Raye; Secretary of State Charlie Summers, who lost to Pingree in 2008; Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, who finished 6th in a seven-way GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010; Steve Abbott, current UMaine athletic director who finished 4th in the 2010 GOP goveror’s primary; Josh Tardy, former House minority leader and a well-respected up-and-comer in the party; and Peter Mills, a moderate who has run for governor on two occasions, served in the state Legislature for many years and now heads the Maine Turnpike Authority.
If Snowe offers her support to one of these potential candidates, that could be the difference.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Snowe’s sudden departure should not change the color of that seat.
“Maine has a proud history of electing independent leaders, including a Republican governor in 2010, and while this will be a key battleground in the fall, I am confident it will remain in Republican hands,” Cornyn said in a statement Tuesday.
It’s important to note that while Snowe’s exit from the race does leave it wide open, there are six declared candidates — four Democrats, one Republican in D’Amboise and one Republican-turned-independent in Andrew Ian Dodge.
The Democrats — former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, state Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth and Benjamin Pollard, a Portland home builder — are set to compete in a June primary, but that field is likely to grow.
If Pingree or Michaud or Raye jump into the Senate pool, one of the two House races or both would be thrown into disarray.
Whatever happens, it needs to happen quickly.
The deadline for a primary candidate to enter the race is March 15. To get in, 2,000 signatures are needed.
Without an incumbent, an independent like Eliot Cutler or Angus King could get into the race. Cutler narrowly lost to Gov. Paul LePage in 2010 but has remained in the public spotlight and still has broad support among moderates. An independent has until July to get on the ballot but would need to gather 4,000 valid signatures.