The second district scramble

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, continues to inch closer and closer to running for governor.  Whether or not he actually does it is anyone’s guess, but the Democrats seem to increasingly think he is going to do it.

And why not? The man himself is telling the world publicly that he is thinking about it.

If he does, he will set off the greatest scramble in recent political memory for his second district congressional seat.

At least two members of the Baldacci political dynasty (former Gov. John Baldacci and his brother Joe) are said to be considering a run. In the words of one Republican operative I spoke to recently, “John will run for Congress if Mike runs for governor, as he is 100 percent lost in the real world.”

But they are not the only Democrats taking a look at a run. State Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, is certainly interested, as she recently indicated that she is “more serious than ever” about a potential run if Michaud gets out.

The parade of Democrats lining up to run doesn’t end there. Virtually any Democrat of any stature (and some who don’t have any to speak of) are considering throwing their hat in the ring. It isn’t every day that a virtually invincible congressman with a lifetime seat gives up said seat.

On the Republican side, things get even more interesting.

The most prominent name that continually comes up in conversations with Republicans is former House Minority Leader Josh Tardy.

Tardy is quietly looking at the race and assembling the architecture of a campaign machine, while waiting for Michaud to make his decision. If he were to follow through and actually run, he would undoubtedly be one of the early front runners.

I have also heard that former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin may be thinking about a run.  This would be complicated by the fact that (last I checked) his home was actually in the first district, but that problem can be solved relatively easily if he wanted to run.

2012 nominee Kevin Raye is likely not going to run again after having twice attempted to take down Michaud, but people will mention his name nonetheless.

Then there are lesser known but potentially interesting names that get passed around behind the scenes among Maine politicos, such as former Bangor Mayor Cary Weston and current Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte. Both have natural political gifts, a strong geographic advantage and a compelling rationale for how they could win.

However, they are the more unlikely candidates, as both may have their eyes on higher office further down the road. But watch them nonetheless.

And of course, there is always the possibility (nay, likelihood) of relatively unknown business leaders diving into the race, instantly changing it with the ability to self fund and create a “job creator” theme for their candidacy.

No matter who ends up throwing their hat in the ring, the race will be competitive. The eventual nominees from each party will be running in an open seat, in Maine’s most conservative congressional district, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+3, indicating that it is ever so slightly Democratic leaning.

That means that Republicans will be extra hungry to pick the seat up and will have plenty of air cover from the National Republican Congressional Committee to give them a realistic chance at taking it.

Likewise, Democrats will be eager to maintain their grip on a seat they have held for 20 years, unwilling to let the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi slip to the GOP.

So, if Michaud ends up running for governor, the second district will become a massive free for all, with national and local money pouring in and a huge field of candidates on both sides being a real possibility.

It would be a race for control of a district covering roughly 80 percent of the state, unlike anything we have seen in decades. I’m kind of looking forward to it.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.