Three Candidates Shake Up Race For Maine's Open Senate Seat

The race to replace Olympia Snowe features candidates who tend to stray away from party politics.


If past history is any indication, the candidates running for Maine's open Senate seat, which opened after Republican Olympia Snowe chose not to run for a fourth term, will be part of an oddball campaign that will only grow stranger as the calendar creeps closer to Election Day.

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First, the Democratic nominee selected by voters on Tuesday, Cynthia Dill, is an outspoken progressive who has rankled fellow Democrats since she was first elected to the State House in 2006. She blogs, she Tweets, she's on Facebook – and for the most part, she's seemingly uncensored. In a 2009 blog post, Dill referenced Rush Limbaugh's weight loss efforts and his new look.

"The visual might be a mix of a Sharpei and a pig. A Sharpiggie," she wrote. Dill has taken to her blog several times to take jabs at large men in power, sometimes as a rebuttal to what she sees as the unfair objectification of women in politics.

The state's top Democrats, including both U.S. Representatives and a former governor, declined to vie for the seat following King's announcement to run.

While the Maine Democratic Party is tepidly embracing Dill's candidacy, national party officials are keeping their distance, preferring instead to bank on former Maine Gov. Angus King, who is running as an Independent.

"Although [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell has already seemed to wipe his hands with Maine, we continue to work with people in Maine to assess the race," says Matt Cantor, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

That's left the chatty Dill to make friends with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who are more than happy to exploit the fact that while Democrats are touting female candidates in other states, they are leaving Dill out in the cold.

Dill has expressed her disappointment with the DSCC directly to the NRSC, which has subsequently E-mail blasted her comments to reporters.In addition, the feisty Dill has attacked King for declining to say who he will caucus with in the Senate if elected.

Maine Democratic Party Chair Ben Grant called the race "complicated."

"I'm just preaching patience and our nominee Cynthia will be a strong voice for us," he says.

Dill was unavailable for comment for this story.

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Meanwhile, Republicans selected Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers as their nominee. Summers is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran with State House experience, who also served in the U.S. Small Business Administration and, for a time, as Snowe's state director.

But he also led a high-profile and widely panned voter fraud investigation in the midst of a statewide campaign to restore same-day voter registration, which Republicans had eliminated. Voters overturned the new law and Democrats say Summers used his office in an overtly political way.

But at this stage in his campaign, he's preaching pragmatism—to a point.

"Ideology has got to be set aside because the economic reality of the situation—it doesn't matter if you are conservative, liberal or moderate—we just don't have any money and we've got to set our differences aside and fix this," he says.

He has also signed Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge, which has stymied congressional efforts to find a compromise deficit reduction plan.

When Summers was asked whether or not he could accept a deal that included a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases, he declined to answer.

"That's all hypothetical and I've been in this long enough to know not to deal with hypotheticals," Summers says. "The issue is not are we taxing enough, it's the way in which it's spent."

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Summers has also has wasted no time taking aim at King, a two-term governor first elected in 1994 and presided over an economic boom time. Summers said even a "ferret" could have done a good job during those years.

Both Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins, also a Republican, have endorsed and pledged their support for Summers.