Maine Democratic Party leader will have to fight to keep job

Good morning from Augusta, where Tuesday’s election is already providing fallout for Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett.

Outgoing state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, confirmed late Wednesday that she’ll run to replace Bartlett at the state committee’s next meeting on Nov. 20, while term-limited House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said he’s considering a run.

In a first, Maine split its presidential electors this year, giving the one from the 2nd District to Republican Donald Trump, who upset Democrat Hillary Clinton, the winner of Maine’s other three electors. Democrats won all Maine presidential elections dating back to 1992.

Bartlett, a former legislator from Gorham, was elected two years ago after Democrats receded particularly in the 2nd District, losing the congressional seat to Republican Bruce Poliquin and the Maine Senate majority. Poliquin again beat Democrat Emily Cain on Tuesday.

But the chairman saw a silver lining in the Maine legislative elections, where the party narrowed Republicans’ Senate majority to one seat and maintained a narrow majority in the House of Representatives. Four progressive ballot questions passed, too.

“There’s a lot of support for progressive policies,” he said.

Russell and McCabe could be formidable challengers. Both supported Clinton primary rival Bernie Sanders early in the presidential campaign and he easily beat her in the Maine caucuses.

Russell was a Sanders delegate to the national convention, where she led a challenge to limit the influence of superdelegates, the party insiders who can cast votes for whoever they want in the presidential nominating process, proving herself a capable activist.

She also has baggage: Her political action committee was fined for ethics violations during the past year and in June, she took third in a nasty Maine Senate primary in June despite raising a record sum with a robust email list of small national donors. Her bid was opposed by Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland.

“Democrats are doing some real soul searching right now about our future, and I think it’s time for a fresh start,” Russell said in a message. “We need (to) press the reset button and retool for the future.”

McCabe, who was term-limited in the House this year and lost his challenge to Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, on Tuesday, has a rural profile. He has been endorsed in the past by the National Rifle Association and opposed Question 3, the background check referendum on this year’s ballot that was rejected because of 2nd District opposition.

After this year’s election, he said “it is clear we need to get back to some (basic) issues” and he’s still considering whether to run after being asked to by members of the party, people from the Sanders campaign and elected officials. — Michael Shepherd

Correction: An earlier version of this post had the wrong number for Question 3.

LePage: ‘I think Susan Collins is done in Maine’

Gov. Paul LePage told WGAN on Thursday that “we saved the country” by electing Trump, but he hasn’t moved to the conciliatory phase just yet with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, another Republican heavy-hitter.

“I think Susan Collins is done in Maine,” he said when asked if she was going to run for governor in 2018, citing her August decision not to support Trump that he said “cooked her goose” in the party.

It’s worth noting that Collins, who hasn’t ruled out running for governor in two years, has long polled as Maine’s most popular politician with a 73 percent approval rating in a June poll. LePage had a 58 percent disapproval rating.

And Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said the senator’s goose is just fine.

“Her goose not only hasn’t been cooked, it hasn’t even been plucked yet,” she said in a statement. “In fact, her goose is alive and healthy and looking forward to many more years of service to Maine.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Legislative Republicans are holding leadership elections in Augusta on Thursday. After keeping the majority, Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls, kept their positions. Assistant Leader Andre Cushing, R-Newport, fended off a challenge from Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth to win two more years in that role. On the House side, Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport and assistant Ellie Espling of New Gloucester should keep their spots.
  • On Clinton, U.S. Sen. Angus King told CNN that “qualifications can be a disadvantage” in an election. The independent and Clinton supporter said “people were voting for change even though they didn’t fully know what kind of change they were going to get.”  Meanwhile, LePage again fed rumors that he would challenge King in 2018, while speaking on WGAN.— Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist: Election edition

Note: There will be no Daily Brief on Friday in honor of Veterans Day.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.