Former top LePage aide denies claim by Steve Woods that he is gearing up for Senate race

Senate District 25 candidate Steve Woods. BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett

Senate District 25 candidate Steve Woods. BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett

Democrat Steve Woods of Yarmouth, who is running in his party’s primary for the open Maine Senate District 25 seat, said Tuesday that Republican Michael Cianchette, the former chief legal counsel for Gov. Paul LePage, will jump into the race following the June 10 primary election.

Cianchette says it’s not true.

Woods issued a press release and took to the radio on a political talk show Tuesday morning to assert that Republicans were planning to install Cianchette as the Republican nominee for the seat after the June 10 primary election. The press release carried the headline “Woods: GOP preps LePage insider for Senate 25.”

Cianchette in response to questions emailed by the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday afternoon, said Woods is incorrect. Cianchette is on vacation with his family after a recent return from a military deployment in Afghanistan.

“I have been approached about entering the race,” wrote Cianchette, who resigned from the LePage administration in August 2013 shortly before being sent to Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve. “I am certainly humbled, but at this point I am not and will not be in the race.”

Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage also told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that Cianchette is not interested in running for the seat, which is being left vacant by independent Richard Woodbury, who has announced he will not seek re-election.

“I can tell you that he is not interested in running for the seat,” said Savage. “I would know.”

Woodbury, the Senate’s only independent, served three terms in the House and two terms in the Senate. District 25, following last year’s legislative district reapportionment process, includes Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Westbrook and Yarmouth.

William Gardiner of Yarmouth, a member of the Yarmouth Republican Committee who has registered to be the Republican candidate in the Senate District 25 race, said Tuesday morning that he had just heard the rumor about Cianchette.

“As far as I know I am still the candidate,” said Gardiner. Asked if he was a “placeholder” candidate, meaning he filed paperwork to appear on the ballot without intending on remaining in the race until the general election in November, Gardiner declined to answer.

“When someone suggests you should run for the Senate, you don’t take it lightly,” said Gardiner. “We’ll see what happens after the dust settles in the primary.”

Woods, a business owner and chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council, has made his desire to serve in elected office clear in recent years. In 2012 he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Olympia Snowe until he bowed out of the race and endorsed Angus King, who went on to win. Woods also announced his candidacy for governor as a Democrat until he quit that race in August 2013 and endorsed Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who is unopposed in the primary.

Woods, who faces a challenge in the Democratic primary from Catherine Breen, a former Falmouth town councilor, told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that he had heard of Cianchette’s impending candidacy from multiple sources, including a Republican official he wouldn’t identify. He said parties using placeholder candidates until after a primary is unfair to voters.

“The Republicans want to perpetuate the pretext that they’re not doing this so that after the [primary] election they can make an announcement saying the person who won the nomination has decided for some obscure reason that he is not going to run,” said Woods. “Things like this further erode people’s faith in government. … All I’m asking from my friends on the other side of the aisle is to be honest with voters and two weeks before the primary election either declare that Michael Cianchette or no other Republican will be switched out of the seat or that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

Rick Snow, chairman of the Yarmouth Town Republican Committee, said it’s his understanding that Gardiner is in the race as a placeholder but said he hadn’t heard anything about who might step in.

“I think there are a number of good Republicans for the election if Steve were to win, but he has a good row to hoe against his primary challenger,” said Snow.

Melissa Packard, director of elections for the Secretary of State’s office, said candidates can withdraw after the primary election, with a deadline of 5 p.m. on the second Monday in July. It then falls to the county party committees to nominate another candidate through a caucus process by 5 p.m. on the fourth Monday in July.

We’ll see what happens.

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.