AUGUSTA, Maine — Thursday’s announcement by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud that he is eyeing a run for governor set in motion a wild scramble among Republicans and Democrats hoping to win Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat if he abandons it.
Based on immediate speculation and the initial reactions of potential candidates, primary ballots next June could be pages long.
After easily fending off 2012’s challenge by then-Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, who was deemed to be a formidable contender, Michaud was considered nearly untouchable in the 2nd District for as long as he wanted to serve. Now, the prospect of an open seat will attract attention from a bevy of candidates in Maine and money from national party organizations.
Hoping to break into the Democrats’ lock on the Northeast, Republicans think they have a good chance at taking over the seat because it includes Maine’s comparatively conservative central and northern reaches. Democrats point to the fact that Olympia Snowe in the early 1990s was the last Republican to represent the 2nd District and that its voters have supported the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in each of the last six elections.
Some of the people considering a bid are familiar faces with statewide name recognition, while others hope to emulate Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who jumped from municipal to statewide elected office. With more than a year left before the next gubernatorial and congressional elections, the race is wide open and the list is sure to change, providing Michaud follows through with his aspirations for the Blaine House.
One of the more recognizable Republicans making overtures about running for the seat is former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, who has made it consistently clear that he is interested in an elected office. Poliquin, a resident of Georgetown in midcoast Maine, lost primary bids for governor in 2010 and the U.S. Senate in 2012.
“I am looking at [trying to take over Michaud’s seat] very seriously,” Poliquin said Thursday. “Clearly, our federal government is broken, spends too much money and has too much debt. We have a lackluster economy with not enough jobs and we need someone with financial experience and business experience. I would not enter a race like this unless I had a strong belief that I would do well.”
Poliquin, who worked as an investment banker, lives in the 1st Congressional District. Though it is not a requirement that members of Congress live in the districts they represent, Poliquin said Thursday that he is considering moving to the Waterville area to be closer to his aging parents. Congressional redistricting in 2011 shifted Waterville from the 2nd District to the 1st, but many of the city’s surrounding towns remain in the 2nd District.
Poliquin is also considering running in a special election for the state Senate District 19 seat being vacated by Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, who announced earlier this month that he will resign soon to take a presidentially appointed post with the Small Business Administration.
Another Republican interested in the 2nd District seat is Richard Rosen of Bucksport, who served for a total of seven terms in the state House and Senate. Rosen is currently the director of LePage’s Office of Policy and Management.
“I’m seriously considering it,” said Rosen on Thursday, though he said anyone considering serving in Congress would have to seriously weigh what he called a deadlocked political climate in Washington.
Among the newer faces in the mix is House Assistant Republican Leader Alex Willette of the Aroostook County town of Mapleton. Willette, 24, a Realtor who is attending law school, said northern Maine needs a conservative like him in Congress and that Congress in general needs younger members.
“I’m certainly considering it but there’s a lot of work still to do in the Legislature,” he said Thursday. “I’ve had a lot of great conversations with members of my party in the 2nd District who are interested in the next generation of Mainers having a voice in Washington.”
Willette said he might make a final decision within a few weeks, but not until the legislative session ends.
Second-term state Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, said he is also weighing a run.
“A chance like this one comes up only once every 10 years or so,” said Mason on Thursday, though he said his attention won’t turn toward a potential campaign until the legislative session is over and his work keeping lawmakers from “raising taxes on Maine’s working families” is complete.
Former House Republican Leader Joshua Tardy said he is also “absolutely looking at running” though he won’t make any decisions until the legislative session is over.
“After that I’ll give the decision its due diligence,” he said.
Other potential Republican 2nd District candidates who have been the target of speculation in social media, blogs and elsewhere include former eight-term state legislator Debra Plowman of Hampden; former congressional candidate Blaine Richardson of Belfast; 2010 gubernatorial primary candidate Steve Abbott; and Bangor City Councilor Cary Weston. Raye, who lost twice to Michaud, might contemplate a third run if matched up against a different opponent.
At the top of the list of Democrats eyeing the seat is a very familiar name: Baldacci. However, this time it would be Joe Baldacci, brother of former Gov. John Baldacci, who has indicated he is not interested in returning to Congress after serving as Maine’s 2nd District representative from 1995 to 2003. Joe Baldacci, an attorney and Bangor city councilor, said Thursday that he’s likely to run.
“I think it’s important to have a fighter and a leader who can fight for jobs,” said Baldacci. “North of Bangor, we’re still facing an economic crisis that needs to be addressed.”
Another Democratic interested in the seat in Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, who is in her fifth term in the Legislature. Cain is the former House Democratic leader and longtime member of the Legislature’s powerful Appropriations Committee. Cain told the Bangor Daily News in March that she’d be “more serious than ever” about running for Congress if Michaud ran for governor.
“I’m a big fan of Mike Michaud, but if he decided to run for governor I would very seriously consider running for the 2nd Congressional District seat,” said Cain, who briefly considered a run for the 2nd District seat in 2012 when Michaud contemplated running for the Senate after Snowe announced plans to retire from that body. “This is now an opening to get past just the gut reaction. It’s an opportunity to have the conversation carefully with my colleagues, family and supporters.”
Other Democrats whose names are floating around include Assistant Maine Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash; Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan; and former legislator and current Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.
Sun Journal State Politics Editor Scott Thistle contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is the former assistant Senate majority leader. Jackson is still in that post.