The race to be Maine’s next governor is heating up as the two main political parties finalize their slates of candidates heading into the June primary elections.
The original field of nearly 30 candidates has narrowed to 11. Senate President Mike Thibodeau’s withdrawal March 26 left four Republicans in the race, along with seven Democrats. Registered party members will choose a nominee June 12 during Maine’s first-ever statewide ranked-choice voting primaries.
University of Southern Maine political scientist Ron Schmidt said the primaries will be interesting.
“The Republicans are going to try to outflank each other from the right and stake out their claim to LePage and Trump. LePage’s claim is that he was ’Trump before Trump,” Schmidt said.
On the Democrats’ side, there’s more leeway in the direction the candidates can go, and Schmidt expects to see more variety in the party in general, and in the field of candidates.
“We have moderate, almost Independent-like Maine Democrats. I think personal biographies are going to come into play,” he said.
Republican candidates include Ken Fredette (Newport), Garrett Mason (Lewiston), Mary Mayhew (South China) and Shawn Moody (Gorham). Democrats are Adam Cote (Sanford), Donna Dion (Biddeford), Mark Eves (North Berwick), Janet Mills (Farmington), Mark Dion (Portland), Diane Russell (Portland) and Betsy Sweet (Hallowell).
“The field includes an eclectic mix of politicians with a range of experience from nearly all parts of Maine,” said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine
Brewer said if he had to pick one to watch, the Republican race should prove interesting with more “top tier” candidates in the hunt than the Democratic field.
Republicans have the sitting governor, and without Thibodeau, who clashed publicly with Gov. Paul LePage, are fielding a slate heavy with “LePage-like” candidates, according to Brewer.
While the outgoing governor hasn’t endorsed anyone yet, there are at least three candidates – Mayhew, Fredette and Moody, who are carrying the torch lit by LePage, according to Schmidt.
On the other side of the aisle, Schmidt said the number of Democrats is indicative of a party trend to challenge higher issues and the Trump administration practices and policies.
“The Maine Democrats are following nationwide party trends and challenging the Trump administration,” he said. “There’s so much energy in the party right now, and primary races across the country are flooded with candidates.”
With seven candidates vying for the nomination in June, Schmidt said voters could become disillusioned if the primary race gets bruising.
Brewer said with the exception of Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, Democrats in the running lack name recognition for voters.
“I think most people would say Janet Mills is the one Democrat that has the highest name recognition, but a lot are also very interested in Adam Cote. I think right now those are the two rising above the rest of the field,” Brewer said.
Cote has never held political office, but with a reputation as a nice guy, a respected legal career and years of active military service, Brewer said his lack of political experience might be a good thing for him.
“Gov. LePage ran as an outsider. This is a state where being a political outsider can work for someone,” he said.
He noted Mills and Eves are much more traditional public official type candidates with a lot of experience in public office.
“Neither party has a clear and obvious front runner at this point,” Brewer said.
Both pundits feel the LePage legacy is going to be a big issue in the Republican primary race and November’s general election.
Schmidt said eight years ago when LePage came into play, the question was whether he would become the face of the Republican party in Maine, or would it return to the old Olympia Snowe look.
″(Mike) Thibodeau clearly thinks it’s going to be the former,” Schmidt said. “He thinks it’s going the LePage way, that’s why he pulled out. We’re left with four people trying to leverage LePage support.”
Brewer concurs, saying the remaining candidates will parlay their connections with LePage to the fullest leading up to the primary election.
“The LePage legacy is going to be a big part of the campaign,” he said. “Defending the accomplishments of the governor is going to be a big issue.”
Business owner Shawn Moody, a former Independent who enrolled in the Republican Party in October, is the only one in the race who has run before, losing to LePage in 2010. Moody leveraged the LePage legacy by hiring his daughter, Lauren LePage, and his political advisor, Brent Littlefield, to run his campaign.
Brewer said Maine is a hard state to put in a box. Maine voters could give the governorship to either party.
“It’s way too early to guess who is going to get each nomination,” he said.
The national parties watch what happens in Maine, that also adds some pressure to the candidates. This is a big national year in Congress and people want to know where they are investing their money, so there’s a lot at stake in June,” he said.