WASHINGTON — As Maine goes, so might the U.S. Senate majority.

Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s surprise retirement announcement last week didn’t just shift Maine’s political landscape — it triggered national tremors that will be felt through Election Day in November.

The attention of the political world suddenly is fixed on the fight to replace the 33-year lawmaker, which could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate after November.

With the stakes so high, an unprecedented amount of campaign cash will flow into the state, perhaps doubling what ever has been spent on a Maine race, say party consultants and independent analysts.

“My sense right now is that this is going to be the most expensive election campaign ever in Maine history, and it won’t even be close,” said Mark Brewer, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maine. “TV ads, outside money, the heavy presence of both national party organizations, and this all focused around the Senate seat.”

Throw in a potentially competitive congressional race, a same-sex marriage ballot question and, of course, the presidential race, “and it is going to be an electric election cycle this year in Maine,” Brewer said.

Barry Bennett, a national Republican strategist and veteran Capitol Hill staffer, said local television stations will receive a political-ad windfall.

“The real victims (of Snowe’s retirement) are the people of Maine, who will have to suffer through a lot of really bad television commercials this fall,” Bennett quipped.

The focus is on a seat that neither Democrats nor Republicans thought was in doubt, but that now could dash GOP hopes for a Senate majority.

“At the beginning of the year, there was the expectation that the Senate was going turn Republican; but now that expectation is greatly diminished,” said John Feehery, a national GOP strategist who was a spokesman for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Snowe’s departure doesn’t mean a GOP Senate majority is “out of sight,” Feehery said Friday, but “it makes it harder.”

If national Republicans are grimacing about Snowe’s decision not to seek a fourth term, national Democrats are chortling.

“With the news about Sen. Snowe, that gives us a little but more of a spring in our step,” said Jim Manley, a national Democratic strategist and former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “This could be a key pickup that could help Democrats keep the majority next year. It may be the backstop needed to make sure that Republicans don’t take control of the Senate.”

The 2008 Senate race, in which GOP Sen. Susan Collins easily defended her seat against Democrat Tom Allen, generated a total of about $17.5 million in campaign spending.

Collins raised $8 million, Allen nearly $6 million and outside groups pumped in the rest, said John Baughman, a politics professor at Bates College.

That almost certainly will be eclipsed in the race for Snowe’s seat, Baughman said.

Peter Fenn, a national Democratic consultant in Washington, said the candidates alone might spend a total of $30 million, especially if a credible independent such as former Gov. Angus King gets into the race.

But that’s just the beginning.

Republican and Democratic national committees could each pump several million dollars into the fray. And the landmark Citzens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by the Supreme Court removed political spending limits by corporations and unions, making way for large political action committees, or super-PACs, to spend tens of millions of dollars nationally on key House and Senate races.

“There is a lot of money moving around” nationally, and now a big chunk of it will find its way to Maine, said Mark Lindsay, a former Clinton administration official who is now a Democratic strategist and lobbyist in Washington. “Having an opportunity in a place like Maine is wonderful news. It’s a very big deal.”

Democrats hold 51 seats in the Senate, and two independents caucus with the party. There are 33 Senate seats up for grabs in November, with Democrats defending 23 held by their party and Republicans just 10.

Democrats are expecting tight races for seats in at least eight of the states where they are defending: Hawaii, Montana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.

Until Snowe’s announcement, Cook had rated just two Republican-held seats as tossups: Massachusetts and Nevada.

Snowe’s retirement isn’t the only recent development to boost Democratic hopes. Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey decided last week to run in Nebraska, giving Democrats a legitimate shot at a Senate seat that had been rated likely to go to the GOP.

Also, Democrats are convinced that other developments have given them a better chance to go after GOP-held seats in several other states, including Indiana and Arizona.

Snowe’s retirement was the last thing Republicans needed, said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington.

“Republicans can’t afford to lose too many of their own seats if they have any chance of gaining the three or four they need for a majority,” Gonzales said.

Even if Democrats don’t wind up winning the Maine seat, however, they are confident that Republicans will have to divert precious resources, and that’s already a victory, said Michael Cuzzi, a Democratic strategist and Obama campaign aide in 2008 who is now a public affairs consultant in Portland. Cuzzi said he’s confident Democrats will have the advantage in the race for Snowe’s seat.

“Maine is a domino,” Cuzzi said. “The fact that it now goes into a lean-Democrat category means Republicans unexpectedly will need to work harder and spend significant resources here, diluting their ability to run competitively in other races and to win back control of the Senate.”

Brian Walsh, the spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he doesn’t dispute that Maine has gone from a slam dunk for the GOP to a bitterly contested race; but Democrats shouldn’t get too cocky, he added.

“There is no question that Maine is going to be one of the key battlegrounds in November,” Walsh said, but added “for those Democrats who have started their victory lap, it is far too premature and frankly a little bit arrogant. I expect we will have a very competitive race in November.”


Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter: MaineTodayDC


Here are the people who have taken out nomination papers for the two U.S. House seats and one Senate seat that will be on Maine’s ballot in November. People who have expressed interest but not taken out papers, and those who took out papers but later withdrew, are not included. Party candidates need at least 1,000 valid signatures for the House seats and 2,000 for the Senate seat by March 15. Independents have until June 12, the date of Maine’s primaries.



Rick Bennett

Margaret Byrnes

Karen Carringer

Glen Craig

Scott D’Amboise

Debra Plowman

Bruce Poliquin

William Schneider

Robert Seeley

Michael Stoddard

Charlie Summers


John Baldacci

Chellie Pingree

Benjamin Pollard


Julia Carlson

Aaron Marston

Seamus Maguire

Verne Paradie Jr.


southern Maine


Jon Courtney

Markham Gartley

Arthur Kyricos

Debra Reagan

John Vedral


Peter Chandler

David Costa

Cynthia Dill

Jon Hinck

Barry Hobbins

David Lemoine

Wellington Lyons


central/northern Maine


Kevin Raye


Mike Michaud

Matthew Dunlap