AUGUSTA – Anyone contemplating a bid for statewide office in Maine next year – both John Baldacci and Olympia Snowe are up for re-election – may find the competition daunting.

As a general rule, incumbent politicians generally hold an advantage.

U.S. Sen. Snowe, a Republican who announced her bid for a third U.S. Senate term earlier this year, has never lost an election in the 27 years she has served in Congress.

Stateside, Gov. Baldacci, a Democrat now in his first term, won four consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before he was elected governor in 2002 by a five-point margin.

Neither politician has any announced competition yet – with a single exception – which may speak to the popularity each currently enjoys.

“I think Sen. Snowe is unbeatable,” said Christian Potholm, author and government professor at Bowdoin College who also works as a Republican political consultant.

As for Baldacci, recent polls show he has an envious job approval rating as high as 70 percent, Potholm said.

But that hasn’t stopped speculation about who will eventually take up the challenges and run against the two incumbents.

Gubernatorial lineup

The only person to publicly announce a gubernatorial candidacy is Nancy Oden of Jonesboro, an independent. Oden has been an environmental activist and worked on Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign last year. She has filed papers as a publicly financed candidate.

While no Republican has officially stepped into the race yet, at least five have said they may seek to unseat Baldacci.

• Peter Cianchette, the GOP nominee in 2002, said he is mulling the prospect of another bid.

“I’m giving it a great deal of thought and consideration,” he said. He has been conferring with friends and advisors to determine, among other things, whether he can raise enough money to mount a competitive campaign, he said.

• Dave Emery, of Tenants Harbor, said he is thinking about another foray into politics after a 15-year hiatus.

The veteran Maine politician served four terms in Congress until 1982. He headed up the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency for five years under former President Ronald Reagan.

He was defeated in a 1982 U.S. Senate bid by George Mitchell, who went on to become Senate majority leader. He lost to former U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews in 1990 in an effort to win back his old 1st Congressional District seat.

• Brian Hamel, who failed last year in his race against 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud, said he is weighing all of his options, private and public.

“I haven’t closed the door to any opportunity yet,” said the president and CEO of the Loring Development Authority. His contract for that job is up in June.

• Paul Davis, Maine Senate minority leader, said he hadn’t contemplated a gubernatorial run until colleagues urged him to think about it.

“We’ll see how things go,” said the former Maine State Trooper. He said Maine needs a governor who is as conservative as he is.

• Maine Sen. Peter Mills of Cornville, a longtime state legislator, is considering a run and expects to make a decision sometime this month, he said.

Then there is Les Otten, one-time ski area mogul and current Red Sox owner, who said he isn’t interested in talking about a possible candidacy, only baseball, skiing and the state’s economic needs.

“I’m a candidate for the discussion” of politics, he said. Despite his denials, Otten’s name has surfaced often as a possible statewide office candidate.

Probably not going there

Republicans who indicated they would likely not be on the ballot next year include:

• Former Maine Sen. Phil Harriman, who was spokesman for the 1 percent statewide tax cap referendum last year. Sidetracked by two college students and a wife in treatment for breast cancer, he said if forced to decide now, “I would have to take a pass.”

• Former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett, who nearly beat Baldacci in the 2nd District race in 1994, said “I think it very unlikely that I will run for governor in 2006.”

• U.S. Rep. Susan Collins said she has “no plans at all” to run for governor. Although she said in 2000 she only expected to serve two terms in the Senate – meaning she would leave the Senate in 2008 – Collins hasn’t ruled out a third term, saying it was “too soon to make those decisions.”

• Daniel Wathen, former chief justice for the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, laughed before saying, “No,” when asked whether he would be a candidate for governor, as he was briefly in 2002.

• David Flanagan, former president of Central Maine Power Co., apparently won’t be launching an independent candidacy if his wife, Kaye, has any say. “I think I can reliably tell you he’s not on the agenda,” she said in a phone call to his home.

And then there’s Jonathan Carter, who ran for governor as a Green Party candidate and more recently as an independent. He said he would not be filing papers next year. “I’m not running.”

Possible Senate contenders

Democrats who may challenge Snowe in 2006 include:

• U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, Maine’s 1st District congressman. Through spokesman Mark Sullivan, Allen said he is not “shutting any doors at this stage,” but said it was too early to seriously consider a run now.

• Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe, whose name was floated recently as a possible candidate by a Capitol Hill news source, said he has been approached by a number of people urging him to run. He has not ruled out a bid.

“I don’t know how anyone could watch what has been going on in Washington and not want to do something about it,” he said.

• Jean Hay Bright, a Dixmont journalist who wrote a book titled “A Tale of Dirty Tricks So Bizarre: Susan Collins vs Public Record” about Collins’ first run for Senate, said she is exploring a Senate bid and has launched a Web site dedicated to that pursuit.

Beating the incumbents

Whoever enters either of the races will face opposition both experienced and popular.

As a moderate Republican, Snowe is in a position to be effective in Washington as a member of the majority party, yet represent most of her constituents on social policy positions, said Karl Trautman, chairman of the Social Science Department at Central Maine Community College.

Snowe is a “formidable” candidate, conceded Maine Democratic operative Severin Beliveau of Augusta. If Portsmouth Naval Shipyard were to close and Bath Iron Works were to lose its military shipbuilding contracts, an opponent could take on Snowe arguing she is ineffective in protecting Maine’s interests, he said. But Allen would be equally vulnerable on those issues, since the two yards are located in his congressional district.

No Senate opposition candidate would be likely to raise enough money to pose a serious threat to Snowe, Beliveau noted. In 2002, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee funneled money to Chellie Pingree’s campaign against one-term incumbent Collins. Republicans held a slim majority in the U.S. Senate and Democrats felt that seat was winnable. They may not feel the same about Snowe next year, Beliveau said.

As for the gubernatorial race, while he may not be the political Titan that Snowe is, Baldacci wins points with many fiscal conservatives and the business community because he has not raised sales or income taxes. He even was given a “B” rating by the conservative Cato Institute for his fiscal policies, beating out Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who earned a “C.”

Baldacci’s Achilles’ heel may lie with the Green Party, pundits say. In 2002, Carter captured 9 percent of the vote. Most of those votes would otherwise have gone to Baldacci, experts say. If a Green candidate were to siphon off double that percentage next year from Baldacci, it could make him beatable, Trautman said.

John Rensenbrink, one-time U.S. Senate candidate for the Green Party and current chairman of the search and support subcommittee, declined to comment on possible Green Party candidates.

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