AUGUSTA — Just two weeks after Democrat Christopher Johnson won a surprise victory in a state Senate election, a Republican challenger has emerged to take him on in November.

Rep. Les Fossel, R-Alna, recently announced that he is running for Senate District 20, which covers nearly all of Lincoln County and the towns of Friendship, Washington and Windsor. Others still could sign up to run before the March 15 filing deadline.

The Senate race is one of 35 that will be watched closely this fall as Republicans work to retain control of the chamber and Democrats try to knock them out of power. Republicans control the Senate 19-15-1.

Johnson shocked political observers with a 54-46 percent Valentine’s Day victory over Rep. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro. Dow, an experience legislator who runs Dow Furniture, was considered the frontrunner in the race to replace Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro. Trahan resigned in late December because he took a job with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

Johnson ran an aggressive campaign that highlighted the policies of Gov. Paul LePage, and he began running well before any Republican candidate had been chosen to replace Trahan. Also, very low turnout — fewer than a third of the voters who cast ballots in 2010 voted in the special election — was a factor in the traditionally Republican-leaning district.

As he headed to a Saturday evening event in Waldoboro to thank supporters, Johnson said his first two weeks in office have been a whirlwind. On Thursday, he was appointed to serve on the Marine Resources Committee; and on Saturday, he attended the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockland.

During the campaign, about 75 volunteers drove him across the district, made phone calls and held house parties to help him get elected, he said.

On his first day in the Senate, Johnson cast the deciding vote that delayed passage of a $121 million budget to plug a hole at the Department of Health and Human Services.

A week later, after negotiators found a way to bring enough Democrats on board for the budget to pass, Johnson once again voted against the document.

“The budget itself had not changed,” he said. “I supported the concept of veterans getting (additional help), but there are so many people who are still going to lose health care.”

In contrast, Fossel, a member of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, voted for the budget as a member of the House of Representatives. As chairman of the moderate caucus, he said he often works toward consensus.

“What I’m looking for is common ground, not a battleground,” he said.

Fossel also is a member of the Judiciary Committee and Government Oversight Committee. He runs Restoration Resources, a firm that specializes in historic houses. He has served as an Alna selectman, an Alna School Board member, and assistant fire chief.

Johnson is a director of information technology for DeskNet, a technology company based in Portland and Jersey City, N.J.; and he is a former employee of Central Maine Power Co.

Johnson represents Somerville on the board of directors of Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12, and he served on the Lincoln County Regional Planning Committee. He has been the moderator for Somerville’s annual Town Meeting for many years.

With the November election months away, Johnson said, it’s difficult to gauge how voters will feel when they consider whether to vote Democratic or Republican.

However, he hopes to get a chance over the next six weeks of the legislative session to have strong input on the next budget. He also expects several debates in advance of the November election will give voters a chance to get to know the candidates well.

“It’s too early to tell how it’s all going to work out,” he said.

Fossel said the district has 2,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats and that turnout will be much higher than it was during the February special election. With a presidential race, a suddenly hot U.S. Senate contest and gay marriage on the ballot, there will be reasons for everyone to vote, he said.

“How much more motivation do you need to turn out?” he said. “It will be a very different election.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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