Shenna Bellows will run against Susan Collins in 2014

It’s been rumored for weeks, but Shenna Bellows on Tuesday removed any doubt that she will run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

Bellows, who until recently was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, on Tuesday said she would “officially” launch her campaign on Oct. 23. She also launched a campaign website, as well as a “Shenna Bellows for U.S. Senate” Facebook page, and posted a photo of herself mailing in her candidacy papers at the U.S. Post Office in Augusta (see tweet below).

Bellows is a well-known political player at the State House, having taken the lead on civil liberties issues such as support for same-sex marriage and same-day voter registration. During the last legislative session, she led the successful effort to require warrants for access to cellphone communication records and opposed warrantless drone surveillance.

She is the only candidate to have officially registered to challenge U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is widely regarded as one of last powerful moderate Republicans in the Senate.

Until the flurry of online activity Tuesday, Bellows had been tight-lipped about the rumor she might run. In an interview she said that was because it would have been inappropriate to discuss her future plans while she still held her post with the ACLU of Maine.

Bellows said she’s running for Congress because “we need more courage and honesty in Washington.”

She decided to run for Congress this spring, while working to enact the cellphone privacy law, she said.

“I was leading this remarkable coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents who shared one thing in common, which was our dedication to the Constitution,” she said. “The ability to listen to people with whom we disagree and coming together to a solution with them is really important.”

This marks her first statewide election bid, though she flirted with the possibility of running for the 1st Congressional District in 2012, back when everyone was mulling their options in the wake of Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire from the Senate. Once it became clear that Rep. Chellie Pingree, who holds the CD1 House seat, was staying put, Bellows took her name out of the ring.

Collins has proven immensely popular among Maine voters, earning a higher margin of victory with each subsequent election: She won a three-way race with nearly 50 percent of the vote in ’96; earned more than 58 percent of the vote in a head-to-head contest against Chellie Pingree in ’02; and garnered more than 61 percent of voter support against Rep. Tom Allen in ’08.

That track record makes any campaign to unseat her an uphill battle, which Bellows said could be a benefit to her campaign.

“There’s freedom in being an underdog, to speak honestly and stand up for my principles,” she said.

It will be interesting to see whether Bellows — like Democrat Cynthia Dill, who ran in a similarly difficult Senate election in 2012 — might have trouble attracting financial backing from Democratic donors because the focus will be on Rep. Mike Michaud’s effort to become governor and the effort to hold onto Michaud’s House seat in the 2nd Congressional District.

Here’s a sampling of the #mepolitics Twitteratti’s response to Bellows’ announcement:

 

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.