National Republican group says Maine Senate prime for a flip to GOP control

There’s no question that Maine open 2nd Congressional District seat, which is being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who is running for governor, is attracting a lot of national attention, along with which comes money and other resources. As it turns out, there is also high-level attention on the balance of power in the Maine Senate.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday (the article is behind a paywall) that the Republican State Leadership Committee considers Maine one of the top five states where the GOP could take over majority control of the Senate. Supporting that claim is the fact that the balance of power in the Senate is close, with 19 Democrats, 15 Republicans and one independent. That means as little as three pickups by Republicans could sway the balance.

Despite so much attention on this year’s gubernatorial election, the political makeup of the Legislature will be crucial in either party’s efforts to forward its agenda for at least the next two years. Gov. Paul LePage had Republican majorities in both chambers for his first two years in office — which marked the first time Republicans have held the majority in decades — though voters returned Democrats to a majority in 2012.

Justin Richards, political director for the Republican State Leadership Committee, said the Maine Senate, along with the House of Representatives, are indeed in the organization’s crosshairs. That means that Republican legislative candidates in Maine are likely to receive financial support and leadership training, though Richards said it’s too early in the campaign to quantify how much.

“The Maine Senate is absolutely a target for us and the House is a top target as well,” said Richards. “The reason is [the Maine Republican Party’s] impressive recruitment efforts in filing a candidate in every district, including a significant number of women candidates.”

According to the organization, Republicans hold majority control of 59 state legislative chambers, 29 governorships, 28 lieutenant governorships and 29 secretaries of state. From the perspective of pushing conservative ideals in the United States and inserting Republicans into the pipeline for higher offices, that’s significant, according to RSLC spokeswoman Jill Bader.

“What’s great about state-level office holders is that they’re the ones who are closest to the voters,” said Bader.

The RSLC and others are hoping that frustration with Democrats, particularly with President Obama and the federal Affordable Care Act, will propel more Republicans to office. In Maine, Democrats are sure to try to link their Republican opponents to LePage, who they argue has been disruptive to the legislative process and at times, embarrassing to the state.

UPDATE (4:30 p.m. on 05/07/14): Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, pushed back at the RSLC’s assertions by saying that Republicans in the Senate will pay for their allegiance with LePage at the election booth.

“Maine legislative Republicans lost their majority in 2012 because they refused to stand up to LePage and his bizarre antics,” said Sargeant in a written statement. “In this session they continued to act as rubber stamps to the LePage agenda, and no amount of national Republican money can convince Maine voters otherwise.”

Though it’s anyone’s guess at this point how the election will affect the power balance in the Senate, here are five interesting match-ups where Democratic or independent incumbents are either leaving the Senate or could be vulnerable:

– Senate District 1 in Aroostook County is essentially an open seat that’s being vacated by Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who is running in the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District seat. The contenders are Republican Peter Edgecomb of Caribou, who has served four terms in the Maine House, and Democrat Charles Theriault of Madawaska, who also has four House terms under his belt.

– In Senate District 5, Democratic Sen. Emily Cain of Orono is resigning to run against Jackson for the 2nd Congressional District seat nomination, leaving voters with a choice of Republican Wanda Lincoln of Old Town against either Democrat Herbert Clark of Millinocket, who has 24 years of past experience in the Legislature, or two-term Democratic House Rep. James Dill of Old Town.

– In the hotly contested Bangor-area District 9, first-term Democratic Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick faces a challenge from Republican Cary Weston, who is well known from his time on the Bangor City Council. In the past four years, the Bangor seat has gone from Democratic to Republican and back to Democratic control. In 2012, when Gratwick defeated one-term Republican Sen. Nichi Farnham, the campaign attracted more than $450,000 in outside spending, nearly doubling the next-most-expensive Senate campaign that year.

– The retirement of Democratic Sen. Edward Mazurek of Rockland in District 12 could open the door for Republican Paula Sutton of Warren, who appears with Democrat David Miramant of Camden, who served one prior term in the House, on the general election ballot.

– In District 13 in Lincoln County, Democratic Sen. Christopher Johnson of Somerville faces another challenge from Republican Leslie Fossel of Alna, a former House member who lost to Johnson in 2012 by fewer than 200 votes.

– Retiring Democratic Sen. Margaret Craven is leaving an opening in the Lewiston’s District 21, where well-known businesswoman Patricia Gagne, a Republican from Lewiston, is vying against one-term House Rep. Nathan Libby, a Democrat from Lewiston.

– In District 25 in Cumberland County, retiring independent Sen. Richard Woodbury leaves an opportunity for a pick-up by Democrats or Republicans. Republican William Gardiner will face either Catherine Breen of Falmouth or Stephen Woods of Yarmouth, depending on who wins the Democratic primary.


Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.