Erick Bennett will challenge Collins from the right in Republican primary

Erick Bennett. Courtesy Erick Bennett.

Erick Bennett. Courtesy Erick Bennett.

Erick Bennett, a Portland political consultant and founder of the conservative Maine Equal Rights Center, announced Monday that he’ll run as a primary challenger to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

But in an interview, Bennett seemed pretty ho-hum about whether or not he really wants to serve in the Senate. He said the primary challenge is not about him, but about facilitating a conversation among Republicans about Collins’ voting record.

Bennett said he’d asked several prominent Republicans — he hinted at CD2 contenders Kevin Raye and Bruce Poliquin — to run against Collins, but no one was interested.

So the mantle has fallen on him, he said.

“We have primaries because we need to engage the public,” he said. “It’s a marketplace of ideas. If we don’t have a primary challenger, we’ll never get to have those discussions. … We have to hold people accountable for their votes, and if we don’t have a challenger, we never get to do that.”

Bennett and the Maine Equal Rights Center, which opposed same-sex marriage in 2012, have criticized many of Collins’ votes, including authorization of force in Iraq and Afghanistan, and her positions on everything from gun rights, to energy and civil rights.

His campaign will focus on civil rights, Bennett said, and an effort to get back to what he calls “Constitutional government.”

“The federal government can’t do anything right,” he said. “We’re clearly not following the Constitutional form of government. If we just return to that, 99 percent of our problems would just disappear.”

Despite his focus on small government, Bennett said he’d resist efforts to pigeonhole him as part of any one political movement or another.

“I’m not a political candidate,” he said. “I’m not a Tea Party guy; I’m not a Liberty guy. All I care about is our constitutional rights.”

Bennett said he’ll file paperwork for his candidacy at the end of the month. He doesn’t have a campaign website yet, but you can see many of his positions on his personal website, erickbennett.com. (His Facebook page also provides lots of insight.)

Shenna Bellows, a former executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, is the only Democrat to have filed her candidacy for the U.S. Senate next year.

UPDATE: This story was up for less than two hours before several Republicans — inside and outside Maine — contacted me off the record in an effort to put distance between Bennett and the mainstream GOP. It also didn’t take long for topless and semi-topless pictures of Bennett, gleaned from his social media profiles, to start popping up on Twitter. So, the contest between an apparently divisive figure like Bennett and a nationally regarded U.S. senator who hasn’t faced a primary challenge in years should be a pretty one-sided affair. Time will tell.

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.