While three of the biggest names in the Maine Democratic Party have already taken out nomination petitions to run for Olympia Snowe’s seat in the U.S. Senate, the Republican primary race remains wide open as party leaders and likely GOP candidates continue to mull their options.

On Thursday, independent Aaron Marston, a political newcomer, was the only person who took out papers for the Senate race.

The sole Republican in the race remains Scott D’Amboise, a tea party-affiliated candidate who was unknown before he entered the race last year.

Three days after Snowe’s surprise announcement that she will not seek a fourth term in the Senate, the lack of activity among Republicans stands in sharp contrast to Democrats.

On Wednesday, three high-profile Democrats — former Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, representing the 2nd Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, representing the 1st District — all took out papers.

Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said Thursday that GOP leaders are discussing who the strongest Republican candidate would be in a three-way Senate race. He said they are assuming that former Gov. Angus King, an independent, will run in the general election in November.

King, who has said he is considering running, has until June to collect petition signatures. Candidates who want to run in the party primaries on June 12 have until March 15 to submit at least 2,000 voters’ signatures.

Webster said that King — whom he described as a “liberal Democrat” — would take votes away from the Democratic nominee, and that Republicans would stand the strongest chance in the general election with a candidate who believes in the core principles of the Republican Party.

“I think you will have a race with two Democrats and a Republican,” he said. “I think we need to be different than they are. It doesn’t have to be radically different, but it has to be different.”

‘A lot of conversation’

While any candidate is free to run on his or her own, Webster said, Republican leaders have put together a short list of potential candidates and are trying to make a “careful” decision about which one would fare best in the general election.

Among the prominent Republicans considering the Senate race are state Senate President Kevin Raye and Richard Bennett, a businessman and Maine’s Republican National Committee member. Bennett, a former Maine Senate president, lost the 2nd District congressional race to Baldacci in 1994.

Raye said in an interview Thursday said that he understands he must decide quickly, but he is determined to make “as thoughtful a decision as possible.”

He said he is talking with Republicans who are interested in running for the 2nd District congressional seat if he runs for the U.S. Senate. Raye is already a declared candidate for the U.S. House seat, now occupied by Michaud.

“There is a lot of conversation going on,” Raye said.

State Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, has already taken out nomination papers for the 2nd District race. Bangor Mayor Cary Weston is also considering a run for the GOP nomination, according to Republican sources.

Three Democrats have taken out nomination papers the 2nd District seat: House Minority Leader Emily Cain, Bruce Bruyand, and former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

Anticipating that Pingree will run for Snowe’s seat, state Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, took out nominating papers Thursday.

Hobbins, who is 60, first ran for Congress when he was 32. He said he will decide by Monday or Tuesday whether he will run for Pingree’s House seat.

“It could be a very crowded primary,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

Democrats who have taken out papers for the 1st District seat are state Sen. Cynthia Dill, Wellington Lyons, David Costa, state Rep. John Hinck, and David Lemoine, a former state treasurer.

John Vedral, a Republican from Buxton, took out papers Thursday to run in the 1st District.

Two other Republicans have taken out papers for the 1st District: state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, and Markham Gartley.

Nation weighs in

Snowe’s open seat in the U.S. Senate is the biggest prize, and is attracting national interest.

The New York Post reported that Georgette Mosbacher, a businesswoman, GOP fundraiser and former wife of Robert Mosbacher, secretary of commerce under President George H.W. Bush, is thinking about buying a house in Maine and running for the Senate as a Republican.

GOP consultant Ed Rollins told the Post that Mosbacher “spent a lot of time in Maine” when her former husband worked on Bush’s presidential campaign.

In an email to supporters Thursday afternoon, Pingrees made it clear that she is strongly leaning toward running for the Senate, saying she has received “overwhelming” support from across Maine and the nation.

Several national liberal groups already have called Pingree their preferred Democratic Senate candidate. The Washington-based Progressive Change Campaign Committee started a “draft Pingree” movement within an hour of Snowe’s announcement Tuesday. The group said Thursday that nearly 7,000 people nationally had signed on to its online petition urging Pingree to run.

The group also is soliciting contributions for a Pingree Senate run through the ActBlue.com website, and as of Thursday afternoon had raised more than $10,000 for Pingree’s House campaign committee, money that she could use for a Senate race.

Pingree’s husband, S. Donald Sussman, is a financier, philanthropist and frequent Democratic donor who recently purchased a 5 percent equity stake in MaineToday Media through Maine Values LLC.

MaineToday Media owns and operates The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contactedf at 791-6369 or at

[email protected]

Twitter: TomBellPortland

 

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