2012 was an interesting year for Maine politics, with the United States Senate race taking a wild turn when entrenched career politician Olympia Snowe dropped out. Running scared of freethinking Republicans no longer willing to play by the your liberals vs. our liberals game, she cited intense partisanship that apparently didn’t exist before. Ever.
Could it happen again?
Senator Susan Collins is facing strong opposition within her own party by these same tea party conservatives, as well as the Ron Paul-supporting libertarians who became a strong force through the presidential campaign. Even with the support of such figures as former Paul State Director and current State Senate candidate Eric Brakey, Collins is finding support on the right harder to come by.
Maine Equal Rights Center director Erick Bennett, a venomous loose cannon convicted of assaulting his wife, has entered the primary. Despite a media obsession with this violent character, he is hardly credible opposition. The threat instead comes from the general election, which could see potential libertarian and even conservative support defecting to Democrat Shenna Bellows or even possible future Independent challengers.
Would Republicans consider going with a more electable candidate in the changing party climate?
By more electable, I mean an establishment moderate who could appease some of the conservative and libertarian base.
The first candidate to come to mind would be Bruce Poliquin, who is widely respected by conservatives for his time as State Treasurer. Though his Second Amendment record is one of constant debate among many Republicans, his financial track record is one that earns the respect of many. He is also a mainstream Republican, which could keep the moderate base from causing an uproar.
Problem is even though he has the name recognition and money to become the next United States Senator, he is already running in a district he doesn’t live in for Congress. Interestingly enough with Congressman Mike Michaud running for Governor, the congressional race is wide open just like the 2012 United States Senate race he and others entered following Snowe’s departure.
Who would be the next likely candidate?
Maine Republican Party chairman Rick Bennett.
Poliquin’s first error was not using the Chairmanship, which is a thankless job, as a springboard for a possible candidacy we all knew was coming. Bennett took the job from former State Representative Rich Cebra, who was run out of the position by frequent infighting and issues such as Penobscotgate.
Bennett has done a respectable job calming the infighting and uniting those who have not departed the party, though that number is climbing. Various liberals, while obviously in disagreement with principles, have praised him for a calmer, civil demeanor. Libertarians have even supported him.
Despite Bennett’s strong support for controversial issues like Maine Clean Elections, Brakey, State Representative Aaron Libby and Maine Republican Liberty Caucus chairman Vic Berardelli all supported his candidacy for State Chair against Ron Paul National Delegate Sam Canders. Though this is not to imply support for a possible Senate candidacy, it shows that some more to the right can be comfortable with his moderate positions.
Being State Chairman is going to be a hard job going into 2014 elections. Paul LePage alone is a tough act to defend at times, because despite doing some good things while in office, he is a loose cannon who speaks bluntly to excess.
The error for the Republican establishment in 2012 was not having a candidate lined up to jump in for Snowe. That may be the fault of Snowe herself, putting her own political legacy before all else. But regardless, a heated primary left the base divided behind a weak perennial loser who failed to inspire Republicans, let alone attract Democratic crossover or Independents.
Thus, the plan in 2014 must be executed right. Keep the seat with a moderate who can sell himself to conservatives and libertarians (though he himself is hardly conservative or libertarian).
Susan Collins drops out, Rick Bennett runs, and the United States Senate is hypothetically won by Republicans again. Right?
Until the Democratic Party establishment slams the panic button, trampling Shenna Bellows and pushing her aside to upgrade Chellie Pingree’s title.
Then it becomes a whole new ballgame.