(AUGUSTA, Maine) — When Olympia Snowe, the Republican senior senator from Maine, announced her plans to retire from Congress last month, the consensus among politicos was that her move would behoove the opposing party — the Democrats.
But the filing deadline to qualify for the ballot in the state’s June 12 primary was Thursday at 5 p.m., and the outlook for the Democrats is not so clear.
Maine has been friendly territory for Democrats in recent years. The state has gone Democratic in the past three presidential elections, and both of Maine’s House reps are Democrats.
The party has a deep bench of strong candidates: Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, and former Gov. John Baldacci were viewed as strong possibilities to claim Snow’s sought-after seat. All three, however, have decided against running.
Three Democrats are currently set to run: Matt Dunlap, a former secretary of state for Maine, state Sen. Cynthia Dill, and state Rep. John Hinck.
On the Republican side, the field is twice the size. Six candidates have thrown their hats into the ring: current Secretary of State Charlie Summers, Attorney General William Schneider, State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, state Sen. Debra Plowman, former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett and Scott D’Ambroise, a Tea Party candidate who entered the race before Snowe announced her retirement.
The big candidate, though — the one who has so far gained the most attention — doesn’t represent either party. The candidate is Angus King, the former independent governor who served the state from 1995-2003. King’s background in the public and private sectors appeals to both Republicans and Democrats.
“He’s a very successful businessman who has done a great deal of work in investing in green energy, and I think that kind of typifies how he’s able to appeal to both Republicans and Democrats,” said John Baughman, an associate professor of politics at Bates College in Lewiston.
Early polling suggests King is the clear front-runner in the race, and Baughman explained that King’s decision to run was likely the motivating factor for the more well-known Democrats’ otherwise puzzling lack of presence.
“Democrats have in the back of their minds what happened in 2010,” said Baughman, referring to Maine’s gubernatorial race that year.
“In 2010, Democratic voters ended up splitting votes between the party nominee, Libby Mitchell, and independent Elliot Cutler, allowing a conservative candidate to win with about 39 percent of the vote. And it was pretty clear that if either Mitchell or Cutler had dropped out of the race that [Paul] LePage, the Republican (and current Maine governor) would have lost. The Democrats lost a winnable governor’s seat in a fairly blue state, and they did not want that to happen again,” he explained.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio