What Pingree’s Senate decision did and didn’t do for Maine politics

Representative Pingree’s decision not to seek the Senate seat now held by Olympia Snowe has ripple effects on Maine politics.

To some extent, that metaphor is backwards, since Pingree’s choice calmed the waters, at least for the Maine Democrats.

Rather than having Democratic legislators give up their own re-election bids to run for Pingree’s House seat, they are staying put.  With Maine Democrats very interested in winning at least one of the houses of the Maine Legislature, this helps their prospects.

It also means that the party will not have a contested primary for the first congressional district, thus making it unnecessary for candidates to raise money for the race and preventing strains within the party.

Democrats’ positions in the two congressional districts are also looking good, with the second district more competitive.

For Democrats, the race for the U.S. Senate seat includes the candidates who were planning on running against Snowe  – and now one more, former Governor John Baldacci. While he is the best known of the bunch and has some support in the party, he is burdened by negative judgments.

Until prospective candidates have filed completed petitions with adequate signatures, we won’t know who actually qualified for the primary ballot. But Democrats will have to decide if they want Baldacci, who is known but has low poll ratings, or someone with lower name recognition who can introduce himself or herself to the electorate.

While Angus King is the favorite for the Senate now, we don’t know if there’s something we don’t know that could scramble the race. Democrats need to have a credible candidate in the race.

As to Maine Republicans, there continue to be marked ideological schisms, with a range of ideologies much larger than in the national Republican party.  Republican candidates are gathering petition signatures and, for the GOP, much remains to be decided.

But one thing is certain for Republicans. Governor LePage has not built on his election share of 39%. Public Policy Polling found that, if the 2010 election was held today, only 35% would vote for LePage and his job approval sits at 41%.  And, when asked about the 2012 state legislative races, 51% say that if they were voting today, they would vote for a Democrat and 37% for a Republican. There are indeed currents pushing against Maine Republicans, many of their own making.

These numbers for Maine’s Republican governor and legislators are in marked contrast to the retiring senator, who many Republican party activists decried as a RINO (Republican in name only.) Olympia Snowe has a resounding 69% approval rating in the state.

But the likelihood of Republicans nominating someone with Snowe’s profile seems low. In fact, the strategic judgment of GOP Chair Charlie Webster and the sensibility of many in the party leads them to, despite negative views toward the governor and the Republican legislature, desire a strongly conservative candidate to provide a strong contrast to Angus King and the Democratic nominee.

One more thing: This race is getting a lot of attention around the country and the divergence between Mainers and People From Away continues to be striking. Last week, we saw national commentators proclaiming that the Snowe seat was almost certainly going to a Democrat, with many saying it would be won by a progressive or liberal Democrat. Mainers knew that was uncertain, as the state has complicated politics. Now there is more angst regarding Pingree’s decision from national progressives than in the state’s progressive community, which better understands Maine’s complexities and the candidate field than out-of-staters.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.