AUGUSTA — State Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, announced Friday he will not seek the U.S. Senate seat currently held by his former boss, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
Raye will instead continue his campaign for the 2nd Congressional District seat, held by U.S. Rep Mike Michaud, a Democrat.
However, three state officials and a former Senate president — all Republicans — have taken out nomination papers for Snowe’s seat.
Raye’s decision came less than 12 hours after Michaud announced he was opting out of the Senate race. Both candidates had expressed interest in pursuing Snowe’s seat since her bombshell announcement this week that she was retiring.
The decisions by Raye and Michaud should clear the field for potential candidates in the 2nd District race. Each is considered his party’s strongest option.
Raye was under pressure from national Republicans to enter the Senate race. However, Raye told the Sun Journal on Thursday, the decision to jump to the Senate race was difficult. His wife, Karen, was recently hospitalized with heart complications, but has since been released and is doing well.
“This is a very significant life decision and my family and my friends are spending some time sorting through it all,” he said.
Raye said he’d been focused on the 2nd District race and that Snowe’s decision took him, like most people, by surprise.
“When you’re focused on a certain direction, it can be difficult to suddenly change,” he said. “I’m someone who likes to be thoughtful before I do something. At the same time, I’m sensitive to the very short time frame I have to make a decision.”
Raye acknowledged he’d received calls from the National Republican Senatorial Committee about the Senate run. However, he said, “Nobody in Washington has a vote” and he was mostly listening to people in Maine.
In his written statement Friday, Raye said he and his wife had been overwhelmed by “the many kind expressions of support and encouragement we have received from friends and supporters across Maine.”
He wrote, “Many of them have urged me to run for the United States Senate, and others have asked me to continue my candidacy for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat.”
He added, “After careful consideration, I have decided to remain a candidate for the 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Michaud reportedly had been under pressure from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to stay in the 2nd District race. The Portland Press Herald, quoting unnamed Democratic sources, said the DCCC feared Democrats could lose hold of the 2nd District if Michaud ran for the Senate.
Eyeing Senate run
Michaud and Raye withdrawing their names from consideration narrows the potential field for the Senate race. Several big-name Democrats and independents are eyeing the seat.
On the Republican side, Scott D’Amboise of Livermore Falls has been campaigning since last year. However, Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster has said he doubts D’Amboise will be the party choice come June.
On Friday, more Republican candidates began their exploratory runs for the Senate seat. State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and Secretary of State Charlie Summers took out nomination papers, as did former state Senate President Rick Bennett.
Attorney General William Schneider, who attended Snowe’s news conference in Portland on Friday, also took out papers.
State Sen. Deborah Plowman, who had taken out papers for the 2nd Congressional District, said she would begin gathering petitions for the Senate seat.
Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Abbott announced Friday that he was withdrawing his name from consideration, as did Peter Cianchette. Peter Mills, who is now heading the Maine Turnpike Authority, reiterated Friday that he wasn’t interested in the Senate run.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and former independent Gov. Angus King have said they’re all interested in running for the Senate seat. Former independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler has not closed the door.
Of the above potential candidates, only Pingree has confirmed she’s actively gathering the 2,000 signatures needed before the March 15 deadline to get on the June primary ballot.
Independent candidates have until June 1 to gather 4,000 signatures.