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home : • politics : • government
January 26, 2020

8/21/2014 9:36:00 AM
Eye on Augusta: Midcoast Legislative Races Are On
by Andy O’Brien

As the campaign season picks up speed, a picture has finally emerged of what candidates for the Maine Legislature will appear on local ballots. In the lead-up to the deadline for parties to replace candidates who have withdrawn from the races over the summer, both parties had to scramble to replace so-called "paper candidates" who pulled out after the June 10 primary. In most cases, those candidates probably had no intention to run in the first place. All 151 seats in the House of Representatives and the 35 seats in the Senate are up for election this year, and a total of 52 candidates have withdrawn from the race since June - including 35 Republicans, 12 Democrats and five Green Independents.

Following the last-minute scramble, Republicans announced that they have a candidate for all 35 Senate seats and 150 of the 151 House races, although a handful of those candidates will likely withdraw from the ballot before the September 5 deadline. The Democrats have put up candidates for all of the Senate races and 139 of the House races. The Maine Legislature generally sees roughly a third of its members turn over every two years either due to mandated term limits or incumbents retiring or losing re-election bids.

In the Senate, where Democrats hold a four-seat majority along with one liberal-leaning independent, there will likely be heavy spending from both conservative and liberal groups in several targeted races.

This year, the midcoast will see some of the biggest spending in the state, as the Maine GOP has Lincoln County Senator Chris Johnson in its sights. Former Rep. Les Fossel of Alna is challenging Johnson. Knox County is also a battleground, as former Camden legislator Dave Miramant faces off with Paula Sutton of Warren. One anonymous source in the Republican Party told me that internal polls have even identified Republican Minority Leader Mike Thibodeau of Waldo County as vulnerable to a challenge. Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, Thibodeau's Democratic challenger, has reportedly hit "thousands of doors" so far this summer.

Maine's House of Representatives will be a little bit more challenging for Republicans to win this year due to the incumbent advantage. Democrats currently hold a 31-seat majority along with four liberal-leaning independents. Of the incumbents eligible for re-election to the House this year, 66 Democrats are running for re-election versus 29 Republicans. Eighteen eligible Republican incumbents chose not to run for re-election, including Rep. Jethro Pease of Morrill. Republican Peter Weston, husband of former Waldo County Senator Carol Weston of Montville, has recently filed to run for Pease's seat. He will face Democrat Christine Burstein of Lincolnville.

Belfast Republican to Pull Out of Race

Odds are that in House District 97 - which includes Belfast, Northport and Waldo - voters will not have the choice of a Republican candidate after the Bangor Daily News reported that candidate Ben Bryant moved out of the district following a divorce. Bryant defeated Thomas Burpee of Belfast in the Republican primary in June. Bryant could not be reached for comment, but according to Republican House Caucus spokesman Shawn Roderick, Bryant intends to file to withdraw from the race and will not be on the ballot.

Roderick said it's too late for the Republican Party to find a replacement and that it is not likely to field a write-in candidate. Therefore, in November House District 97 voters will have the choice of either Green Party candidate Paige Brown of Northport or Democrat incumbent Rep. Erin Herbig of Belfast.

Some House candidates will not face any challenger, including Republican Rep. Deb Sanderson of Chelsea. Sanderson's Democratic opponent, Joel Pitcher, withdrew from the race. In Rockland, Republican James Kalloch initially withdrew his challenge to Democratic incumbent Rep. Lizzie Dickerson, but has since jumped back into the race when no other Republican candidate could be found to run in his place. Republican Ronald Bovasso of Camden will replace Carole Gartley, who withdrew after the primary, to challenge incumbent Democrat Rep. Joan Welsh in District 94. Independent Owen Casas of Rockport is also running for the seat.

Surge of Third-Party Candidates

This year there's been a surge of third-party candidates running for the Legislature, with 34 candidates either Green Independents or unaffiliated. That's a dramatic increase from the 21 third-party candidates in 2010 and 18 in 2012.

This year, four liberal-leaning independent House incumbents are running for re-election along with 14 other independents who are unenrolled in one of Maine's three recognized parties. In the midcoast, incumbent independents Joe Brooks of Winterport and Jeff Evangelos of Friendship are running for re-election in challenging new districts. Independents have very little clout in the redistricting process, which is dominated by Democrats and Republicans, so both candidates have been redistricted into new, more conservative districts and will now face off against Republican incumbents. Brooks is running against Rep. James Gillway of Searsport and Evangelos is facing Rep. Ellen Winchenbach of Waldoboro.

The progressive Green Independent Party has put up five candidates for the Senate and eight candidates for the House. In addition to Brown in District 97, Green Party member Randall Parr is running in a crowded field including former independent legislator Gary Sukeforth of Appleton, activist Christian "Will" Neils of Appleton and former Republican legislator Wesley Richardson of Warren for the new District 95 seat.

Most political observers are predicting that Democrats will lose seats in the U.S. Congress, which usually translates to losses at the state level. Since 1900, the party in the White House has experienced net losses in state legislatures in every midterm election except for 1934 and 2002. In Maine, Republicans face an uphill battle in taking control of Maine's Legislature due to the incumbent advantage, but that doesn't mean it's not doable.

In 2010, not only did the Republicans take the Senate, but they also knocked out 16 Democratic incumbents, giving Republicans a 15-vote majority. However, the 2010 midterm was a wave election that saw the rise of the Tea Party and a well-organized Republican backlash against President Obama. That year, the Democratic Party held power in 52 (or about 60 percent) of the 88 legislative chambers up for re-election. That November, the Republicans wrested control of 20 legislative chambers from the Democrats and took over 11 governorships from Democrats, including in Maine. While it's unlikely 2014 will be the wave election that 2010 was, it's certainly going to be an expensive advertising campaign and we have yet to see the real money bombs begin to drop.

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