AUGUSTA, Maine — House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe and former Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson announced Maine Senate campaigns on Monday, kicking off the Democratic campaign to take back the chamber in 2016.
Their entries aren’t a surprise: For months, both have been publicly mulling bids to run in districts held by Republicans, who hold a 20-15 majority in the Senate.
A Monday news conference from the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee to launch its 2016 effort highlighted those rural districts with McCabe of Skowhegan and Jackson of Allagash front and center.
Also appearing were Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, who has filed to run for the seat held by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and Rock Alley of Jonesport, the Maine Lobstering Union president, who would run against Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting.
“I feel really hopeful about my chances,” McCabe said, “and when I meet these guys — and some of these guys I’ve known for a while — I know that these are the cross-sections of these Senate districts and I think they’ll do well.”
Democrats say they’re optimistic about their prospects in 2016, a presidential election year. Historically, higher turnout for presidential elections has benefited Democrats in legislative and congressional contests and they raised $247,000 to Republicans’ $54,000 as of September 2015.
Maine Republicans have pushed back on that notion, citing strong performances from Gov. Paul LePage and Sen. Susan Collins in 2014 and a high number of term-limited Democratic legislators, including two in the Senate.
In a Monday statement, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, said that Democrats are rehashing “failed candidates and policies from the past” and Thibodeau called it “disappointing that Democrats have decided to inject political campaigning into the State House atmosphere.”
In 2014, Republicans seized a 20-15 majority in the Maine Senate after Democrats held a 19-16 advantage the previous two years. Even marquee Democrats will have a tough road in 2016.
McCabe would likely run against Republican Rodney Whittemore, who won 63 percent of votes in the district stretching from Rome in Kennebec County to the unorganized territories of Somerset County.
Fulford and Thibodeau’s rematch could be one of the year’s most contested campaigns. In 2014, their race went to a recount that the Republican won by 135 votes.
And Jackson only beat Republican Peter Edgecomb of Caribou — who now holds the seat — by four percentage points in 2012, before he left the Senate in 2014 to unsuccessfully run for Congress.
Jackson’s sights may be higher than that: He has said his political action committee raised more than $50,000 as of November, and he was also mulling a run for Senate president if Democrats can take the majority.
But when asked about that bid on Monday, he said his focus is on the majority.
“Honestly, if I lose my race and the Senate Democrats win the majority, I’ll be ecstatic,” he said.