AUGUSTA, Maine — After Democrats threw their biggest names into the mix for Olympia Snowe’s soon-to-be vacated U.S. Senate seat earlier this week, Republicans were the newsmakers on Friday. Five members of the GOP took out petitions for a Senate run, joining previously declared Republican candidate Scott D’Amboise in the race.
Secretary of State Charlie Summers became the first Republican to take out petitions after Snowe announced Tuesday that she would not seek a fourth term. Treasurer Bruce Poliquin followed close behind Friday afternoon, then former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett and state Sen. Debra Plowman. Attorney General William Schneider joined the race late Friday.
Summers, of Scarborough, was a longtime member of Snowe’s staff and an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House in 2008.
“Of course I worked for her for a long, long time and hold her in extremely high regard,” he said in an interview on Friday. “Now that the seat is open, I think I’ve served in public office and have done a lot of good things and I’m excited about this opportunity.”
Bennett, of Oxford, lost a U.S. House race to John Baldacci in 1994 and has been out of politics for about a decade. However, he has been a player behind the scenes and is the Republican National Committeeman from Maine.
“I’m excited for the chance to get into this effort and to qualify as an official candidate for U.S. Senate,” Bennett said in a statement. “We are at a critical point in our state’s and our nation’s history. People are hurting. They want jobs. They want hope. They want a future for their kids. This is not time for business as usual or politics as usual.”
Plowman, of Hampden, had been exploring a run for the U.S. House but now says she’s considering a run for the U.S. Senate.
“Understanding the task ahead, I will begin to start circulating petition forms and use that as an opportunity to meet face to face with voters and get a sense of my best position to continue to serve the people of Maine,” she said in a statement. “It is my hope to have a decision by Monday.”
Schneider served in the Legislature and the U.S. Army.
“America is at an economic cross-roads — we are spending too much and our job climate continues to suffer,” he said in a statement. “The independent and self-reliant spirit of Maine can and should serve as an example to the rest of the country. Having served in the United States Army and as Attorney General, I understand the importance of discipline, hard work, and making the tough decisions to get our economy back on track.
Poliquin, who lives in Georgetown, did not return a call for comment.
In the three-plus days that have passed since Snowe declared she wouldn’t seek a fourth term, the Senate race — and the two U.S. House races — have started to come into focus.
But things are far from settled and likely will not be until the filing deadline for party candidates on March 15.
2nd District U.S. House race
The race that was most clarified late Thursday night and early Friday morning was the 2nd District U.S. House race.
Essentially, things are back where they started.
Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and his Republican challenger Kevin Raye, the Maine Senate president, both said they would forgo the Senate campaign and remain opponents for the U.S. House.
“I want to continue to represent the wonderful people of Maine’s second district and keep working on the unique issues and challenges we face,” Michaud said in a statement late Thursday “I am also very proud of what I have been able to accomplish on behalf of Maine’s and America’s veterans and that work must continue.”
Raye said: “It has been an extraordinary two and a half days since Olympia Snowe announced her unexpected retirement from the U.S. Senate. During that time, my wife Karen and I have been overwhelmed by the many kind expressions of support and encouragement we have received from friends and supporters across Maine.
“After careful consideration, I have decided to remain a candidate for the 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
U.S. Senate race
Michaud’s decision leaves U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st District, and Baldacci, a four-term U.S. House member and two-term governor, as front-runners to be the Democratic nominee in the Senate race.
Former Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, had taken out papers to run for the House but said Friday that Michaud’s decision effectively takes him out of that race. He plans to stay in the Senate race at least until March 15.
“How am I supposed to plan anything? You just have to keep going,” he said. “For me, it’s not about trying to get a cool job, it’s about the people I’ve met. All I can focus on is what I’m doing.”
Other Democratic Senate candidates include state Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth and Benjamin Pollard, a Portland home builder, who were in the mix before Snowe made her decision.
Raye’s decision paved the way for Summers, Poliquin, Bennett, Plowman, Schneider and maybe others.
Republican-turned-independent Andrew Ian Dodge also is in, along with three little-known independents — Aaron Marston, Verne Paradie Jr. and Julia Carlson — who took out petition papers this week.
Two big-name Republicans — former gubernatorial candidates Peter Cianchette and Steve Abbott — took their names out of consideration late this week.
The decisions by Michaud and Raye also prompted some prospective 2nd District candidates to bow out. Emily Cain, the Maine House minority leader, announced late Thursday that she would not run for the U.S. House.
Bruce Bryant, a former Democratic state senator from Dixfield, also dropped out of consideration for the 2nd District seat.
1st District U.S. House race
The expected exit of Pingree from the 1st District House race could open the door for several Democrats.
Already, six have secured petitions: Barry Hobbins, the state Senate minority leader; Sen. Phil Bartlett of Gorham; Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland; David Lemoine, former state treasurer; Wellington Lyons; and David Costa. Hinck had been a Senate candidate, but switched Friday to the House.
Another name that has been mentioned is Hannah Pingree, former Maine House speaker and Chellie’s daughter.
On the Republican side, only Patrick Calder had declared before this week. However, since Snowe’s decision and since Pingree has expressed strong interest in the Senate seat, three Republicans have begun the signature-gathering process: Jonathan Courtney, the Senate majority leader; Markham Gartley; and John Vedral.
March 15 deadline
Party candidates for the U.S. Senate must turn in 2,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office by March 15. House candidates must submit 1,000.
Unenrolled candidates have until June 1 but must gather 4,000 signatures for the Senate or 2,000 for the House
Two prominent independents, former Gov. Angus King and former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, are contemplating entering the Senate race. Both have said they plan to make a decision by next week.
Secretary of State Summers addressed a question that popped up shortly after he announced his intent to gather signatures for the Senate race: Can the state’s top elections official run for office and keep his day job?
The answer is yes. Summers said there is nothing in Maine statute that requires him to step down, but he said there needs to be a clear separation between his job as a constitutional officer and his role as a candidate.