PORTLAND, Maine — The race for the U.S. Senate is the main draw as Maine voters go to the polls to decide which Republican and Democratic candidates will appear on November’s ballot for U.S. Senate and House elections.
Six Republicans and four Democrats seeking to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe are running in the primary election Tuesday. The GOP also had contested primaries in each of the state’s two congressional districts.
The Senate race has generated the most interest with Snowe’s decision to not seek a fourth term and former Gov. Angus King’s decision to run as an independent.
Peter Gaulkey, a left-leaning Republican in Portland, said he couldn’t vote for any of the GOP candidates on the ballot so he wrote in King’s name.
“I’d just like to see people be more pragmatic. Ideology has gone too far,” Gaulkey said. “People can rail against the government but we are the government — of the people, by the people, for the people. People need to get the work done and stop worrying about ideology. It’s not helping anybody.”
Many voters view King as difficult to beat. And Democrats worry that King, a former member of their party, could siphon off Democratic votes and give Republicans an advantage.
“The reality is that I do think Angus King will win the general election,” said Elizabeth Simpson, a Democrat who said she’d vote for King if necessary to keep the Senate out of GOP hands.
There was light traffic at many polling places, in keeping with state election officials’ prediction of a turnout of less than 20 percent of registered voters.
Many Senate candidates said large numbers of voters still haven’t made up their minds, leaving the outcomes up in the air.
“There are so many undecided voters. I don’t see how anyone can think they have an edge,” said state Sen. Debra Plowman, a Republican who estimated that four in 10 voters are undecided based on her phone calls. “It means anyone can win in my book. We haven’t given up.”
In addition to Plowman, the candidates in the Republican Senate primary were Rick Bennett, CEO of a corporate watchdog firm; small businessman Scott D’Amboise; state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin; Attorney General William Schneider; and Secretary of State Charlie Summers.
Running in the Democratic primary are state Sen. Cynthia Dill; former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap; state Rep. Jon Hinck; and home builder Benjamin Pollard.
In the Republican House primaries, state Sen. Jon Courtney faced merchant mariner Patrick Calder in the 1st District, and Senate President Kevin Raye faced Navy veteran and building contractor Blaine Richardson in the 2nd District.
The candidates continued their campaigning Tuesday after spending Monday on talk radio shows, meeting with voters on downtown streets and working the phones.
Summers stopped at coffee shops and diners in Cumberland and York counties, while Bennett stopped at businesses and met residents in walks through downtowns in central and southern Maine.
D’Amboise also walked downtown districts in central Maine and planned to wave campaign signs with supporters during the afternoon rush hour in Topsham.
Plowman campaigned in the Bangor area and sent email and Facebook messages to supporters. Poliquin worked with volunteers in Damariscotta making phone calls to solicit support. Schneider had a busy primary day planned.
On the Democratic side, candidates worked the phones and met with supporters Monday.
It has been a relatively low-profile campaign, although some of the candidates have taken shots at each other.
Bennett and D’Amboise have criticized Poliquin, arguing he’s not the conservative he claims to be based on past contributions to a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, to a handgun control group and to a leading environmental advocacy group. Bennett has also taken aim at Summers, claiming Summers voted in favor of increased sales and gasoline taxes while in the Legislature in the early 1990s.
The primaries are a pivotal first step toward determining who will replace Snowe as Maine enters a new political era of representation in Washington, said David Stearns, a Republican business owner from Kennebunk.
“This is a critical election,” said Stearns. “I think this primary is important to see who’ll face Angus King.”
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.