WATERVILLE — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud says a Republican proposal to redraw Maine’s two congressional districts is probably aimed at unseating him in the 2012 election.

Michaud, D-2nd District, made the comments Wednesday morning as he strolled downtown Waterville, greeting and speaking with business owners, city officials and people on the street.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on the Republican motives, but one can very easily assume, by looking at the plan they came up with, that’s probably what they’re trying to do,” Michaud said.

Even so, he downplayed the importance of the redistricting effort.

“I do not tend to get riled up over these things,” he said. “I enjoy meeting new people and will have new people in the 2nd Congressional District regardless. I’ll be anxious to campaign in whatever towns are given to me.”

Republicans propose including Androscoggin County, Oxford County and some Franklin County towns in a new 1st District, which is represented by Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, creating more of a east-west divide between the districts. Democrats propose to effectively keep the current north-south divide intact, switching only Vassalboro from the 1st District to the 2nd.

The GOP plan would transfer some towns that have traditionally been loyal to Democrats from the 2nd to 1st District, giving the GOP a little more of an advantage in the 2nd District.

No one has yet announced a candidacy against Michaud, but Maine Democrats claim Senate President Kevin Raye, a Republican, is gearing up for the race. Raye served 18 years on the staff of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and made a failed run for Congress in 2002 against Michaud.

Contacted later Wednesday, Raye said he hasn’t made a decision about whether to run against Michaud, but is very flattered by the suggestion and is thinking about it.

“This isn’t about an incumbent congressman or about a potential candidate; it’s much bigger than that,” Raye said. “It’s about Maine. No matter what the final district lines may be, one central fact remains: Maine has an independent streak and I believe that independent streak will ensure any election in Maine will continue to have the potential to be competitive.”

Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, called the Republican proposal “the Kevin Raye Redistricting Plan,” while Michaud’s own campaign on Tuesday sent a fundraising email to supporters repeating the claim. Michaud’s campaign also said the National Republican Congressional Committee had launched “misleading and almost laughable” automated calls in the 2nd District in an attempt to unseat Michaud.

During his Waterville visit, Michaud took the redistricting proposals in stride, noting that previous efforts have been court-ordered because legislators couldn’t agree on the lines.

“You always look at the initial plans form either party, depending on who represents the seat, and the opposing party always puts out a far-reaching plan,” Michaud said. “When they do redistricting, there always tends to be a political motivation by both sides, so I’ll just wait for the Legislature to see if they’re able to get a plan. If not, then the courts will draw the lines, as they’ve done the last several plans.”

The partisan wrangling over the district lines also highlights a broader problem, Michaud said, saying he discussed the issue with diners Wednesday morning at The Villager restaurant, where he ordered oatmeal and coffee. Calling his own a “swing district,” Michaud said other representatives or senators are encouraged not to compromise because their districts are considered “safe” for their political party.

“If you look at the stalemate that we currently have in Washington, a lot of it is because of the congressional district that members represent. If you have a ‘safe’ Republican congressional district or a ‘safe’ Democratic congressional district, the only time a member will potentially lose their seat is if they’re challenged in the primary,” Michaud said. “So, with these Republican safe-drawn districts or Democratic safe-drawn districts, that tends to make members of Congress not willing to compromise or work out the differences.”

Michaud said he’s not yet thinking about actively campaigning for the 2012 election and is instead focused on using the August recess from Congress to talk with Mainers about key issues such as the budget, veterans, jobs and the economy.

“I’ve always took the opportunity to get around to different businesses to see what they’re doing and see what we might be able to do to help out and just get some of their ideas and suggestions on where we should go as a country,” Michaud said.

Scott Monroe — 861-9239
[email protected]

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