The Money Race to Replace Olympia Snowe: A Pre-primary Update

For those curious about the race to replace U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, the field is about to narrow considerably. On Tuesday, a small subset of my fellow Mainers will vote in the party primaries, presumably reducing the number of candidates from twelve to four: a Democrat, a Republican, a dark horse independent candidate with no shot of winning, and presumed frontrunner Angus King, an independent who served two terms as governor in the 1990s.

In understanding how formidable a candidate is and who they represent, it can be enormously helpful to follow their money, not just their speeches. With that in mind, I prepared a second survey of the Senate aspirants’ political fundraising– who’s giving to them, how much have they spent, and the like – for the Maine Sunday Telegram. It’s based on campaign finance disclosures that were to be filed May 31 and cover the period from April 1 to May 23. (For the first quarter, see this.)

The new data suggests that, in terms of political finance, two tiers have formed in both party contests, with Republicans Rick Bennett and Bruce Poliquin and Democrats Matt Dunlap and Jon Hinck having moved out ahead. King, meanwhile, is steadily building what is, for Maine, a formidable war chest.

In recent weeks, Republicans tried to make hay out of King having apparently donated to the Democratic National Committee earlier this year. In reality, he purchased two $5000 tickets to President Barack Obama’s Maine fundraising dinner, part of which was later allocated to the DNC, the other part to Obama’s campaign. (The purchase was made before Snowe made her surprise retirement announcement) This blunted the attack somewhat, as King had long been on record as supporting Obama, as well as John Kerry in 2004 and George W. Bush in 2000.

On the U.S. House side, Maine has just two representatives, both currently Democrats. Few believe the 1st District race will be competitive, as incumbent Chellie Pingree is popular in the reliably blue district, which includes greater Portland and the state’s relatively affluent southern and midcoast regions. (Her husband, S. Donald Sussman is a billionaire and, to keep things complicated, recently rescued the newspapers I now work for.)

The more conservative 2nd District could be interesting, however, as it pits a relatively conservative Democratic incumbent with deep roots in the district (Mike Michaud) against a relatively moderate Republican with similarly deep roots (state senate president and longtime Snowe chief of staff Kevin Raye.) I also recently took a look at the campaign donations in this race, where Michaud’s long list of PAC patrons is being used against him.

Colin Woodard

Colin Woodard is State and National Affairs Writer at the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram and author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.