MATTHEW GAGNON

The Republican Senate seat contenders

Posted March 22, 2012, at 3:58 p.m.

Angus King may have sucked all of the oxygen out of the room, but there are in fact other people running for the Senate seat vacated by Olympia Snowe.

Were I to profile the Democrats, I am certain I would have plenty of unhappy readers. I doubt anyone much cares what I think of Matt Dunlap, Cynthia Dill or Jon Hinck. Those are the Democrats running, right? Sometimes, with all the announcements of who was not running, it can be hard to keep straight who actually remained after the dust settled.

But let’s be honest, none of these folks is a serious threat to be the next U.S. Senator from Maine.

King is the front-runner, but it seems clear that if he were to lose, it will be to one of the Republicans. They have already engaged King, they will have more money than the Democrats will, they will have more national backing and their base is less likely to be lost to King. So, if it happens that King loses, you will probably have a Republican to thank.

But who are these people? For all the stature that they have — it seems that every high-level constitutional officer currently serving in government is running — the public has mostly not yet gotten to know most of them.

Bill Schneider, the current state attorney general, is clearly the choice of the Snowe machine. Even before it was revealed that he was using her email list to solicit signatures, I had heard a great deal of talk about high-level Snowe people working to promote Schneider as the “consensus choice” to “rally around.”

Schneider is also a mostly white sheet, politically. We just don’t know what he believes or why, but Snowe’s support has already made many believe he is a moderate, though he has taken some solidly conservative positions, such as joining the multistate lawsuit against the health care reform bill.

Charlie Summers, the perpetual candidate, is probably one of the best known in the field, having run for Congress multiple times in the 1st District. He has a long career in public service, is an Iraq veteran and seems genuinely liked by everyone. Having worked for Snowe in the past, but also having been visible in the same-day voter registration fight, his politics are a mix. More conservative than Snowe, less conservative than other candidates. The Goldilocks candidate, if you will.

Rick Bennett is often touted as the best pure politician in the field. Out of government — but not out of politics — for a decade, he is clean of much of the poison associated with recent political tussles. He hasn’t had to take a position on many issues, and can basically make his own image how he wants. While viewed as a conservative by many, he has also flirted with environmental issues and is a supporter of Maine’s clean election law, so some will complain.

Bruce Poliquin is one of the most visible members of Gov. LePage’s inner circle, for good and for ill, and will be out there claiming to be the most conservative candidate in the race, which he may very well be. Questions remain about his viability as a general election candidate, after a lackluster performance in the gubernatorial campaign of 2010, the kerfuffle over his private beach club and his ties to LePage.

But he will have plenty of money, and if he can solve those problems, he could certainly make some noise.

Debra Plowman, my old state legislator, is mentioned less than the others, but that will likely change soon. Unquestionably conservative — and the only woman in the primary — she will be a force to contend with, so long as she is able to raise the money necessary to mount a credible campaign. I see a scenario where she becomes the conservative option and takes the primary.

This is only a small snapshot of who these people are, but a good start. All can win, though it will be difficult for all of them. All are more conservative than Snowe, but most are quite a bit less conservative than LePage. That is a good place to be in, both for the primary and the general election, and it will be very interesting to see who gets the upper hand in this race.

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at matthew.o.gagnon@gmail.com and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.

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