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Pingree Ditches Senate Run, Sets off Another Round of Political Dominoes in Maine
03/07/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree made it official today: She won't run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe. Pingree's decision, made little more than a week after Snowe dropped her bombshell, has implications for Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. And some would-be candidates who had been gripped by a political March madness are moving themselves to basketball's equivalent of the elimination round.

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When it comes to Maine politics, a lot can happen in a week. To recap: Sen. Snowe is out of the U.S. Senate race. Former Independent Gov. Angus King is in. Several Democrats have vascillated between a run for Senate and a run for Congress, depending on Pingree's move. Several Republicans are throwing their names in the Senate ring. And Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is staying put.

Pingree was unavailable for an interview with MPBN, but in a written statement she said she is grateful for the support she's received from across Maine and around the country. In the end she she said she felt she had to put the best interests of the state and the country ahead of her own.

"It was a really hard decision. We all agonized about it a lot," says former Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree, who says she thinks her mother made the right decision. She, herself, had been urged to consider a run for the U.S. House if her mother chose to make a jump to the Senate.

"She loves her job in the House," Hannah Pingree says. "The House is very competitive this election and, you know, she just decided she's making a difference where she is, and, you know, the most important thing she should be doing is representing Maine in the 1st Congressional District."

This week a poll of likely Maine voters puts King on top in a three-way Senate race with Chellie Pingree and Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers. University of Maine Political Science Professor Amy Fried says reading the tea leaves in the upcoming Congressional elections, she thinks Democrats and Pingree needed to play it safe--even though she thinks Pingree could have been a strong contender.

"The Democrats are interested in trying to get the House of Representatives' majority back, and it's always easier to hold the seat with an incumbent than to have an open seat," Fried says. "So it's helpful for the chances of Democrats to regain the House of Representatives."

In a written statement, Gov. King said he was surprised to learn about Pingree's decision not to run for the Senate. The two have been friends for many years and King said he was relieved he woudn't have to compete against her. Republicans have a different take on the announcement. Charlie Webster is chairman of the Maine GOP.

"Congresswoman Pingree is the most liberal representative Maine has ever had. So how would she expect to get elected statewide?" he says.

Webster says if the Senate race comes down to a Republican versus former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who is considering a run, and former Independent Gov. King, Republicans will be eager to run against their records.

Democratic Party Chair Ben Grant says he doesn't know if Baldacci will enter the race. He thinks Pingree made the right decision for herself and her constituents. As far as what happens next, he says Democrats are taking things one step at a time.

"If there's a Democrat on the ballot, the Maine Democratic Party will be supporting that candidate. There's no doubt about it," Grant says. "We'll be excited about whoever that is, and any other speculation there might be about maneuvering is just extremely premature at this point."

Several Democrats and Republicans are actively gathering the required 2,000 signatures for a place on the ballot. Their signatures must be certified by March 15th. Independents have until June 1st to raise twice as many signatures.

Meanwhile, several would-be candidates who had considered running for Pingree's congressional seat are, well, going back to work. Among them: Democrats Diane Russell, who serves in the Maine House, state Sen. Phil Bartlett and Shenna Bellows, who took a two-week leave of absence from her job as head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. "I'm no longer exploring a run for Congress and I'll be returning to the ACLU of Maine as the executive director," she says.

Bellows says she had a good response to her exploratory run and she expects she will make another attempt for elected office someday.



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