Two prominent Democrats, including one House Member, are eyeing the 2006 Maine Senate race — though the Congressman considering a run is not the one early rumors mentioned as a potential challenger to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) next year.
While Rep. Mike Michaud (D) does not plan to challenge the senior Senator from the Pine Tree State, Rep. Tom Allen (D) has not ruled out a bid, according to sources.
A spokesman for Allen dismissed the talk as premature but would not take his boss out of the running.
“It’s still way too early to start speculating about 2006,” said Allen spokesman Mark Sullivan, adding that Allen is “focused on the 109th Congress.”
The other Democrat most often mentioned at this early stage is Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe.
“I’ve been asked to consider running for higher office by a number of people; as of today I have not ruled anything out,” was all Rowe would say about his future political plans.
A Democratic operative, who did not want to be named, confirmed that Allen and Rowe are considering taking on what is certain to be an uphill battle.
“Both are seeing what the temperature is like out there,” the operative said.
Both would be preferable in the minds of party leaders to the only Democrat who has previously expressed an interest in the race.
Last month, Jean Hay Bright, a former journalist and organic farmer who has unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Senate nomination before, formed an exploratory committee.
In 1996 she failed to secure the nomination in the open contest eventually won by now-Sen. Susan Collins (R), and in 1994, she did not make it past the primary in the 2nd Congressional district race.
Allen easily won re-election last year in his race for the 1st district seat, which covers southern Maine.
Allen was first elected in 1996, while Michaud just won his sophomore election in the state’s northern district.
Rowe has served as attorney general since 2001, but the office is not elected. The state’s top law enforcer is selected by the state Legislature.
That should not hurt Rowe’s name recognition, however, seeing as he served eight years in the state House, the last two of which he spent as Speaker.
While either Allen or Rowe would be considered top-tier candidates in a Democratic-leaning state, Snowe remains popular at home.
She was recently named the state’s second most popular politician in a local newspaper poll. Only Collins bested her.
“I think it’s definitely an uphill battle for whoever runs against her, but I don’t think it’s an insurmountable hill,” the Democratic operative said.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is not going to give her a pass, despite her reputation as a moderate who is willing to work across party lines.
“As sure as God made little green apples, there’s going to be a vigorous Senate race in Maine this cycle,” DSCC spokesman Phil Singer said. “There’s going to be a strong candidate and Olympia Snowe is going to be challenged, for sure.”
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won the state 54 percent to 45 percent in last year’s presidential election. Democrats control the entire Maine Legislature and the governor’s mansion.
National Democratic activists have encouraged the national party to target moderate Republicans holding seats in otherwise blue states, which may put additional pressure on Snowe next year.
Singer acknowledged that Snowe and another moderate, Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) will be top targets but said that has more to do with the individual candidates than the direction in which the state they represent leans.
“Certainly Chafee, [Sen. Rick] Santorum, and Snowe are among the people we are going to be looking at closely but so are [Sen. Conrad] Burns and [Sen. Jon] Kyl,” Singer said. “It depends on the candidate.
“For all of her talk about being independent, she’s rubber stamped President Bush’s judicial nominees,” Singer continued.
The Democratic operative warned Republicans not to chalk Snowe up as safe.
“People don’t realize that Olympia Snowe came very close to losing her Congressional seat before running for the Senate,” the operative said.
In 1990, she won re-election to her 2nd district seat with 51 percent of the vote and in 1992 she did not even take 50 percent. A Green Party candidate took enough votes away from the Democratic nominee to hand the seat back to Snowe, who won just 49 percent of the vote that year, the operative noted.
Nonetheless, that may well be old news. Snowe won re-election to the Senate in 2000 with almost 70 percent of the vote.
“I’m surprised that they are looking to field a challenger there,” said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “She’s a very popular leader in the Senate. … Maine is a more moderate state but both Senators are right there in line with the state’s principles,” Nick continued. “There’s nothing to be concerned about. [I predict] she strongly wins re-election there.”