With the surprise announcement Tuesday by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) that she is retiring this year, a previously safe Republican seat has now been thrown up for grabs in a Democratic-leaning state that is likely to vote again for President Obama in the fall. But for now, there’s a more pressing issue: Getting someone on the ballot.
The filing deadline is in just over two weeks, on March 15. And in order to qualify for the primary ballot, Senate candidates must collect and file at least 2,000 petition signatures by that same deadline.
On the Republican side, initial speculation from GOP sources has been that the party will court state Senate President Kevin Raye, a former Snowe chief of staff who is seen as matching the typical profile for electability in the state. Raye is actually term-limited from the legislature, and was already running for Congress (for the second time in his career — more on that below).
On the Democratic side, there was already a primary race going on between state Sen. Cynthia Dill, state Rep. John Hinck, and former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. But that could now all change, with an open seat to entice some bigger names in — namely, the state’s two-member House delegation, both Democrats, Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree.
On Tuesday night, both Michaud and Pingree released statements thanking Snowe for her public service — and indicating that they were considering their options for the race.
“I thank Senator Olympia Snowe for her years of dedicated service.
“I’ve been extremely humbled by the outpouring of encouragement I’ve received from all over our state to run for the Senate.
“After almost five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives fighting to extend veterans services to all parts of Maine, rebuild our infrastructure and make sure that our economy works for small businesses and hardworking families, I’m seriously considering entering the race. I plan to make a final decision in the coming days.”
I want to thank Senator Snowe for her decades of service to the people of Maine. From her time in the House to her three terms in the Senate, Senator Snowe has shown her independence and dedication to Maine. I called Senator Snowe earlier to wish her and her husband all the best in the next stage of her life.
This upcoming election is critical to the future of our working families around the country, and in the coming days I will carefully consider how I can best serve the people of Maine.
Michaud was elected in 2002, to the open House seat for the state’s more rural 2nd District, after having served as state Senate President. (Michaud’s opponent in that open-seat race was none other than Kevin Raye, in fact, who is currently running for the House seat again.) In that same year Pingree, a former state senate majority leader, ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Susan Collins. Pingree was then later elected to the open House seat for the Portland-based 1st District in 2008, and could now conceivably want another try at the Senate.
Chellie Pingree’s adult daughter Hannah Pingree — who is herself a recent former Speaker of the state House — spoke with TPM Tuesday night, about the dynamics of the race and the timeline for any new candidates to get in.
“I would say that given the fact that you have to gather signatures to get on the ballot by March 15, and that requires collecting them and getting them verified, I think the timeline for anybody making a decision would be one to two days — immediate, soon, quickly.”
Would there be a primary, we asked, or would the field clear for a new candidate?
“That’s a good question, I mean, given there are the three people collecting signatures right now,” said Hannah Pingree. “I’ve actually already talked to two of them this evening — and I won’t say which ones — one of them made it pretty clear, that person felt that if a good person was going to challenge the Republicans, they would probably not turn in their petition papers.”
She added: “I think there’s still a very good chance there could be a primary, but among who is a very good question. I think folks like my mom and Mike Michaud are both good friends, they would have a civil conversation about whether that made any sense.”
Also, a Republican source listed several possible other candidates, including: Former state Rep. and 2002 gubernatorial nominee Peter Cianchette; another former Snowe chief of staff and current University of Maine athletic director Steve Abbott, who ran in the 2010 gubernatorial primary; state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin; Attorney General Bill Schneider; and former state House GOP leader Josh Tardy.