BY EDWARD D. MURPHY

The Portland Press Herald

That loud rumble you heard Wednesday was Maine’s political landscape undergoing a once-in-a-generation shakeup.

Sen. Olympia Snowe’s announcement that she had decided not to run for re-election set off political waves because she was considered a virtual shoo-in for election to a fourth term — and, while she ran and won, she locked other politicians farther down the ticket in place.

“Everyone else’s ambition for higher office is conditional on when that person decides to retire,” said John Baughman, a political science professor at Bates College. With Snowe stepping aside, “you’re going to have a chain reaction going down to the state legislature and maybe beyond.”

That chain reaction started with Snowe’s statement Tuesday, but more than a dozen politicians had to cool their heels until Wednesday morning, when the secretary of state’s office doors were unlocked and nominating petitions could be taken out. With the signed petitions — 2,000 signatures for the Senate and 1,000 for the House — due to be turned in by the close of business March 15, potential candidates don’t have a lot of time to weigh pros and cons.

Rep. Michael Michaud, D-2nd District, who has held Snowe’s old House seat since 2003, was one of the first in the door, sending a campaign worker to get petition papers before 10 a.m. Wednesday. Then candidates seeking Michaud’s seat went in, followed by candidates assuming that Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, would give up her seat to go for the Senate.

Pingree herself waited until mid-afternoon. Although she said she hasn’t made up her mind, she is “definitely leaning toward” running for the Senate and got the petitions to keep her options open. She will make a final decision over the weekend, she said.

A group of Moveon.org activists delivered a petition to Pingree’s campaign headquarters in Portland, calling on her to accept a draft for the Senate, and they left with nomination papers to begin the process of gathering signatures to get her in the Democratic primary in June, should she decide to run.

Former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, also took out papers Wednesday afternoon, while former Gov. Angus King said he’s considering running as an independent, which gives him until June to submit signatures. Former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler said he’s also considering a run as an independent.

Further clouding the picture were candidates who had already planned to run in the Democratic primary for the nomination to challenge Snowe.

State Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, knew his race had changed when Snowe put out her statement Tuesday.

“As soon as the person considered to be unbeatable was gone, I knew so was my race,” Hinck said. “Every person with a long political resume would jump in.”

So Hinck took out papers for Pingree’s 1st District House seat. So did state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth.

“Now the (Senate) field is flooded with people with significant resources,” Dill said, adding that, like Hinck, she’ll run for the House if Pingree tries for the Senate.

Former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Portland homebuilder Benjamin Pollard were quiet Wednesday on whether they would continue on in the suddenly more crowded Democratic Senate primary field.

Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls, Snowe’s tea party-backed Republican challenger, had at least one day to consider himself the presumptive party nominee and he marked it with a national interview on Fox News in which he said Snowe had proven herself to not be conservative enough.

Pingree has the largest group of politicians hoping she’ll go for the Senate. In addition to Dill and Hinck, Democrats who took out nominating papers for the 1st District included David Costa, a Portland hotel concierge with one unsuccessful run for Portland City Council on his political resume. Also taking out papers for the Democrats were David Lemoine, a former state treasurer, and Wellington Lyons, a lawyer who’s an official with the League of Young Voters.

Republicans interested in Pingree’s seat are State Sen. John Courtney from Springvale, the GOP majority leader in the Senate; and Markham Gartley, a former Maine secretary of state who once ran against Snowe when she was in the House and he was a Democrat.

In District 2, Michaud’s seat is being eyed by Democrats Bruce Bryant, a former state senator, and state Rep. Emily Cain, the House minority leader. Sen. Deb Plowman, R-Hampden, the assistant Senate majority leader, has taken out papers and state Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry was in the race against Michaud before Snowe’s decision seems to have tempted his opponent away.

However, Raye is considered likely to shift to the Senate race in the next few days.

In all, it’s the biggest shuffle in Maine politics since Sen. George Mitchell’s decision to retire from the Senate after his term ended in 1994 cleared the decks. That led to Snowe running for the Senate against Rep. Tom Andrews, the Democrat from the 1st District.

Snowe’s win allowed John Baldacci to step up to Congress, and he was succeeded by Michaud when Baldacci ran for governor. In the 1st District, James B. Longley Jr. was swept in with the Republican Revolution of 1994, but was gone two years later, replaced by Tom Allen. Pingree eventually succeeded Allen.

Just as Snowe’s election to the Senate turned a safe Democratic seat Republican, Baughman thinks it could return to the Democrats this fall.

National observations are still chewing over Snowe’s surprise decision and haven’t turned their focus to their focus to the actual races and how that might alter Maine’s political landscape.

“Democrats have been too busy dancing in the streets after Snowe’s announcement” to think about that, said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Edward D. Murphy — 791-6465

[email protected]

Staff Writer Jonathan Riskind contributed to this story

 

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