Let the scramble begin.
When U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, announced Thursday that he is exploring a run for governor in 2014, the rumblings of possible names to fill his House seat became discernibly louder.
The political soul-searching over the next few weeks (or months) may not be on the same scale as when U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe shocked the state last March by announcing she would not run for reelection, but political experts fully expect to see many names floated, from both political parties.
“If Michaud stays in the race for governor, it will certainly set off a scramble,” said Mark Brewer, a University of Maine political scientist. “That’s a district that could go Democrat or Republican, depending on the candidate.”
The biggest names on the Democratic side so far are Emily Cain, former House minority leader and current state senator from Orono; Joe Baldacci, younger brother of former House member and governor John Baldacci and a current Bangor city councilor; State Sen. Troy Jackson; Attorney General Janet Mills; and secretary of state and former U.S. Senate candidate Matt Dunlap.
On the Republican side, the list includes former state senator Richard Rosen, former House minority leader and lobbyist Josh Tardy, current State Sen. Garrett Mason and former Senate president Kevin Raye, who twice ran unsuccessfully against Michaud.
No doubt other names will emerge, and all the potential candidates have been careful not to say too much just in case Michaud decides to pull out of the governor’s race and keep his seat. Running for an open seat is a lot different than running against a powerful five-term incumbent.
Cain on Thursday said Michaud would make an excellent candidate for governor, but declined to discuss her own plans. However, Caiin has said in the past that she would be interested in running if Michaud were out of the picture.
Jackson said he is interested in running but is focused on wrapping up a busy and increasingly contentious legislative session.
“You’ve got to do the job in front of you,” he said.
Dunlap, who lost a U.S. Senate primary to Cynthia Dill before sliding back into the secretary of state seat, said he’s keeping his options open.
Joe Baldacci confirmed that he is “very interested.”
“I have great respect for all the names of potential candidates,” he said by phone. “But I suspect that I’ll do what Congressman Michaud has done and set up an exploratory committee.”
There is some speculation that John Baldacci might try to run for his old seat, but he seemed to squash that rumor Thursday.
“My interest right now is back here in Maine,” he said. “I don’t have an interest in Washington at this point.”
A Democrat has held the seat for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District since 1995. Michaud has held it since he was first elected in 2002 and prior to that, John Baldacci served four terms before stepping down to run for governor.
Of Maine’s two districts, the 2nd is much more conservative — Snowe held the seat from 1979 to 1995 before moving over to the U.S. Senate — and Republicans like their chances in an open race.
Cary Weston, former Bangor city councilor and a well-respected name in the Republican Party, said he was a bit surprised that Michaud decided to explore a run.
“He’s been a conservative politician, not a risk taker,” Weston said. “And he’s in a comfortable seat at the moment.”
One year ago, when Snowe made her announcement and Michaud briefly considered jumping into the Senate race, Weston said he would be interested in the U.S. House seat. This time around, he said he has no plans, but he predicted that both primaries would be robust.
As for potential Republicans who could fill Michaud’s seat, Weston mentioned Tardy and Rosen.
“I haven’t heard his name as much, but I think Peter Mills would be an excellent candidate,” he said. “He’s brilliant and he’s been undersold.”
Mills, a former state lawmaker and 2010 gubernatorial candidate, said Thursday, “I’m not really interested, but don’t fail to mention my name.”
Mills also predicted competitive primaries in both parties.
Mason, who is from Lisbon Falls and is serving his second term in the state Senate, confirmed by email Thursday that he is “seriously considering a run.”
Raye, in a telephone interview, said he’s “keeping his options open.”
Tardy said he’s interested but not ready to make any decisions.
Weston said he fully expects a tea party or libertarian candidate to jump into the race on the Republican side. In light of what happened during last year’s Maine Republican Party convention, when Ron Paul supporters were marginalized, there is a sense from some of them, Weston said, that their voices are not now being heard by the party establishment.
“Every name that is out there meets the standard of quality candidate,” said Brewer, the UMaine political scientist. “But it will really come down to name recognition and ability to raise money, which can be difficult in primaries.”