WASHINGTON — Former Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat, is officially running for the seat held by Maine U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe.

But Democratic state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland made it clear Wednesday that he also will be entering the race, setting up a Democratic primary.

Dunlap has filed a statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission, forming a Dunlap for Senate committee. Hinck has formed an exploratory committee and appears poised to make a formal announcement.

Both have been weighing a Senate bid for months.

Snowe, meanwhile, faces a GOP primary challenge from two tea party-affiliated candidates, Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls and Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell.

Snowe, considered a GOP Senate moderate, won re-election in 2006 with 74 percent of the vote. She is the favorite so far to win a fourth term, said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor of the nonpartisan Washington-based Cook Political Report, which lists the Snowe race as “likely Republican.”

Dunlap was secretary of state from 2005-2010 and a former state representative from Old Town. Dunlap also served as the interim executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, leaving that post earlier this year.

“This will be a tremendous challenge,” Dunlap said Wednesday about entering the race. “But I look forward to the discussions I will be having with the voters of Maine over the coming months as we look to chart a new course to prosperity.”

Hinck’s exploratory committee released a statement Wednesday saying they looked forward to a potential Democratic primary.

“Primaries are great for the democratic process and help to energize the electorate. Moreover, it’s time for an incumbent who has spent 33 years in Washington to go. Olympia Snowe has lost touch with Mainers,” the Hinck statement read.

Snowe won election to the U.S. House in 1978 before she was elected to the Senate in 1994.

Snowe’s campaign manager, Justin Brasell, said in an email that Snowe has been “an effective and independent voice for Maine, and she is focused on doing her job to look out for Maine’s interests in Washington.”

Snowe “looks forward to the opportunity in the campaign next year to showcase her many accomplishments on behalf of Maine workers,” he wrote.

Mary Erin Casale, executive director of the Maine Democratic Party, said she is happy there is a contested primary.

“I am glad Matt made it official and I am looking forward to Jon’s filing as well. A primary is great for us,” Casale said. “Either candidate is going to mount a strong challenge against Senator Snowe. She’s going to have a big race in front of her. She has been tacking to the right recently, and the people of Maine are ready for a change.”

A poll released earlier this week found that Snowe is well ahead of her primary challengers.

In a survey of 250 “usual” Maine GOP primary voters conducted Oct. 28-31 with a 6.2 percentage piont margin of error, Snowe had 62 percent of the GOP primary vote compared to 10 percent for D’Amboise and seven percent for Dodge, according to Public Policy Polling. PPP says it is a Democratic polling company, but notes that “polling expert Nate Silver of the New York Times found that its surveys in 2010 actually exhibited a slight bias toward Republican candidates.”

Snowe had more than $3.2 million in her campaign coffers as of Sept. 30. D’Amboise had about $182,000 and Dodge had not raised enough money to file a campaign report with the FEC.

Dunlap and Hinck “have potential to be credible, but they have a lot to prove against Snowe in terms of fundraising, building name and defining a contrast with Snowe,” said Duffy, with the Cook Political Report. “I suspect that they hope that Snowe loses the Republican primary or emerges very damaged, thus creating an opening. Today that appears to be wishful thinking, but I am going to keep watching.”

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter: MaineTodayDC

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