Outgoing state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, confirmed late Wednesday that she’ll run to replace Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett at the state committee’s next meeting Nov. 20, while term-limited House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said he’s considering a run.

In a first, Maine split its presidential electors this year, giving the one from the 2nd District to Republican Donald Trump, who upset Democrat Hillary Clinton, the winner of Maine’s other three electors. Democrats won all Maine presidential elections backing to 1992.

Bartlett, a former legislator from Gorham, was elected two years ago after Democrats receded particularly in the 2nd District, losing the congressional seat to Republican Bruce Poliquin and the Maine Senate majority. Poliquin again beat Democrat Emily Cain on Tuesday.

But the chairman saw a silver lining in the Maine legislative elections, where the party narrowed Republicans’ Senate majority to one seat and maintained a narrow majority in the House of Representatives. Four progressive ballot questions passed, too.

“There’s a lot of support for progressive policies,” he said.

Russell and McCabe could be formidable challengers. Both supported Clinton primary rival Bernie Sanders early in the presidential campaign and he easily beat her in the Maine caucuses.

Russell was a Sanders delegate to the national convention, where she led a challenge to limit the influence of superdelegates, the party insiders who can cast votes for whoever they want in the presidential nominating process, proving herself a capable activist.

She also has baggage: Her political action committee was fined for ethics violations over the past year and in June, she took third in a nasty Maine Senate primary in June despite raising a record sum with robust email list of small national donors. Her bid was opposed by Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland.

“Democrats are doing some real soul searching right now about our future, and I think it’s time for a fresh start,” Russell said in a message. “We need (to) press the reset button and retool for the future.”

McCabe, who was term-limited in the House this year and lost his challenge to Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, on Tuesday, has a rural profile. He has been endorsed in the past by the National Rifle Association and opposed Question 2, the background check referendum on this year’s ballot that was rejected because of 2nd District opposition.

After this year’s election, he said “it is clear we need to get back to some (basic) issues” and he’s still considering whether to run after being asked to by members of the party, people from the Sanders campaign and elected officials.


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