Sen. Tom Saviello’s support of Medicaid expansion has prompted a fellow Franklin County Republican to take a run at his District 17 seat and Gov. Paul LePage to go out of his way to let Saviello know he’s not behind the opposition.

Added to the mix is the fact that John Frary, of Farmington, says key county Republicans don’t want him to run.

Also, the possibility that Saviello may run as an independent has spurred speculation that the two will split Republican voters, giving a boost to Democrat Joanne Dunlap, of Rangeley Plantation, who also ran for the seat in 2012.

Frary said the Medicaid issue is the sole reason he might run for the popular Wilton Republican’s seat. Frary, who ran against U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud for the 2nd District Congressional seat in 2008 and writes a monthly conservative column for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, is circulating nomination petitions.

“I really do believe, as the governor believes, that further expansion of Medicaid would put the state further down the road to fiscal crisis,” Frary said Tuesday.

He said members of local Republican leadership have told him they don’t want him to run against Saviello, but he added “it would be indiscreet of me” to name anyone specific.

“The players want me to back off,” he said. “If he gave up this folly that tips the scale, I would back off.”

Frary, 73, said he will back down if the Republican Party would rather support another candidate who also opposes Medicaid expansion or if Saviello renounces his support of the expansion.

Saviello on Tuesday wouldn’t comment on the speculation that he may run as an independent, speculation fueled on political blogs this week after Frary’s run became public over the weekend.

Saviello said he was surprised when he heard Frary is running, but said it’s his constitutional right. He also wouldn’t comment on the possibility he might run as an independent. Saviello has been enrolled as a Democrat and unenrolled over his political career.

He received a letter from the governor Tuesday, saying that LePage did not set up Frary to run after bloggers speculated LePage was behind it. Saviello didn’t elaborate on the contents of the letter but said it “was very heartfelt and it was much appreciated.”

He said the fact Frary is running does not change his stance on expanding Medicaid — called MaineCare in the state.

“The hospitals need it. The local community needs it,” he said. The proposed federally paid two-year expansion of MaineCare is part of the Affordable Care Act. LePage, backed by many Republicans in the Legislature, is one of several governors to opt out of the expansion, a move that’s being debated by the Legislature.

Frary affirmed that he hand not been not contacted by LePage about running for the seat, though he is aware of the rumors that started after news came out over the weekend that he was going to run.

“I have no doubt that the governor was kind of pleased to hear that (Saviello) was a little agitated, but (LePage) was not behind this,” Frary said. He wasn’t bothered by LePage’s letter to Saviello.

Frary said he has considered the possibility that if he splits the vote with Saviello, he might pave the way for Dunlap to win.

“That is a concern,” he said.

Candidates have until March 1 to declare party enrollment. Saviello previously ran for election as a Democrat and briefly was enrolled in no party before joining the Republicans.

Saviello and Frary said they have not spoken to each other about this, and both said they know about the rumors and speculation surrounding the election through word of mouth and news sources.

Legislative candidates for the seat will run under new redistricting for District 17, which had been District 18. It now includes Jay, Mercer, Smithfield, Vienna, Rome, Belgrade, Fayette, Mount Vernon and all of Franklin County. Before redistricting, the district included Readfield and Wayne and did not include Jay.

Dunlap ran against Saviello in 2012. Saviello won, 12,723-7844. He also garnered 60 percent of the vote when he ran against Democrat Ann Woloson for the seat in 2010. Before that, he represented District 90 in the House from 2002 to 2010.

Dunlap, 70, said she hadn’t expected to run again but felt compelled to do so because of limited interest in the position by other Democrats. The retired teacher, who runs the Rangeley farmers’ market, said area Democrats had a meeting on Sunday and no one had offered to run.

“So I said I would,” Dunlap said. “I think in an election, you should always give people a choice. If you have an uncontested seat, that’s not an election.”

She is in the process of petitioning for the nomination.

Dunlap said she’s heard the rumors circulating about a possible three-way race with Saviello as an independent, but said she won’t make guesses about how he’ll respond to Frary.

“Tom is very popular. If it truly were a three-way race, well, Tom is very popular,” she said. “It is certainly interesting. Maine likes to have interesting politics.”

Sen. Rod Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, said Tuesday he hadn’t heard anything from Saviello about his intentions in the race, nor did he know much about Frary.

“I know Tom quite well and have worked with him for four years. He’s a great legislator,” Whittemore said. “I will say whoever runs against him is going to have his or her work cut out for them.”

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 [email protected]