PORTLAND — When the week started, Peter Chandler, chief of staff to Rep. Mike Michaud, figured he had a pretty good idea how the next five days would go.

But by Friday, Michaud — the Democrat representing the 2nd District — had gotten into a race for the Senate, then got out and back into his House re-election campaign, and Chandler was taking out nomination papers to run for the House.

“The week did not end the way I thought it would,” said Chandler, who lives in Portland and will run for the 1st District House seat if Rep. Chellie Pingree runs for the Senate as expected.

It was that kind of week for a lot of people in Maine politics, and the upheaval started Tuesday, when incumbent Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she was tired of the partisan fighting in Washington and wouldn’t be running for a fourth term.

By Friday, a statewide political reshuffling was in full frenzy, with more than 30 men and women taking out papers to run for two House seats and one Senate seat. Candidate hopefuls must get 2,000 signatures from registered Maine voters by March 15 to get on the primary ballot.

The next move for many of them will be dictated by what Pingree does. She’s taken out nominating papers for the Senate race and has indicated that it’s very likely she will run, but said she will decide over the weekend whether to abandon a re-election race for the House and launch a Senate bid. Former Gov. John E. Baldacci is the only other prominent Democrat to be actively circulating nominating papers for the Senate as of Friday.

One candidate is watching two Pingrees. Ethan Strimling, a former state senator and unsuccessful Portland mayoral candidate, said Friday night that he is considering a run for the 1st District House seat if Pingree runs for the Senate, although he has not yet taken out papers. But he also said he would defer to Hannah Pingree — the congresswoman’s daughter and former speaker of the Maine House — if she decides to run for the House seat currently held by her mother.

Pingree’s husband, 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.

GOP field grows

After a couple of days of inactivity, the GOP side of the Senate race grew markedly Friday.

Before her announcement, Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls, a tea party-backed candidate, had been Snowe’s only in-party challenger. Friday, a trio of state constitutional officers indicated they are likely to run: Attorney General Bill Schneider, Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and Secretary of State Charlie Summers took out nomination papers. Another prominent Republican, former state Senate President Rick Bennett, also took out papers, along with a half-dozen less well-known party members.

Analysts began assessing the race even as the candidates and their supporters were out starting to collect their signatures.

Douglas Hodgkin, a retired political science professor at Bates College and a member of the Lewiston Republican City Committee, said he thinks Poliquin is too controversial to win the nomination.

Poliquin has been accused of violating state ethics laws by not disclosing business dealings and the Maine House of Representatives on Thursday voted unanimously to ask the state’s highest court to issue an opinion on whether he has violated the state constitution by engaging in commerce while serving as treasurer.

Hodgkin also noted that Poliquin did poorly in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary, netting just 5 percent of the vote while finishing in sixth place in a seven-way race.

But Hodgkin said that Schneider would be an excellent candidate and benefits from not having an extensive voting record to for opponents to pick apart. He also added that Schneider would probably be more appealing to the party’s conservative base than Summers, who served as state director for Snowe from 1995 to 2004.

Some in the GOP say Snowe’s a RINO — Republican in Name Only.

However, the possibility of former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler or former governor Angus King, both independents, appearing on the November ballot changes the dynamics of the race, said Peter Mills, a moderate Republican who has twice failed to win the Republican nomination for governor.

“The challenge for either party is the same,” Mills said. “It’s not who can beat the other. It’s who can win in a three-way and possibly four-way race.”

He said the conservative wing of the Republican Party is powerful, but not very big.

Still, with one or two independents in the general election likely to take votes away from the Democratic nominee, it’s conceivable that a conservative candidate could win a Senate race, just as Paul LePage, a tea party favorite, won the 2010 gubernatorial general election in a three-way race. In that race, Cutler got more votes than the Democrat nominee, Libby Mitchell, but was edged out by LePage.

Ronald Schmidt Jr., chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of Southern Maine, agreed with Mill’s assessment.

“The conventional wisdom is that once the primary is over the nominee would need to move to the center for independent voters,” he said. “Governor LePage’s victory suggests another strategy: To make sure you do a very good job of mobilizing your base.”

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