Dropout candidates reshape Maine legislative campaign calculus

Good morning from Augusta, where the Legislature has left for a couple of weeks in a 2018 session that has seemed like it will never end. But we’re also getting some key information about how legislative campaigns will go in November after a key deadline for candidates.

Monday was the deadline for legislative primary winners to drop out of their races while still being able to be replaced by local party committees by July 23. In all, 31 legislative party candidates bowed out of their races — 23 Republicans and eight Democrats.

Senate Republicans have some recruiting to do after losing nine candidates, but the path to keeping a majority may not run through them. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds in the 35-member chamber, because all of these seats are held by Democrats. At least seven of them aren’t particularly competitive districts for Republicans, including two Portland seats and one centered in Saco.

In the most competitive one, Rich Donaldson of Georgetown is running as a replacement to run against Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic. Vitelli lost re-election in 2014 to Republican Linda Baker, but Vitelli took the seat back by 6 percentage points in 2016 after Republicans ousted the moderate Baker in the primary.

The next most competitive place where Republicans lost their candidate is probably in the race against Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, a former attorney general who represents one of the most conservative areas of the state. He won by 4.7 percentage points in 2016, but anyone will find him hard to beat.

It’s also worth noting that Senate Republicans have a good track record when it comes to electing replacement candidates. Sens. Scott Cyrway of Benton, David Woodsome of North Waterboro and Lisa Keim of Dixfield all started off as replacements.

Even if all these candidates lost, it still leaves enough districts in play for Senate Republicans to keep their razor-thin 18-17 margin, though it will be a challenge since they’re losing key incumbents to term limits, including Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, who sits in a swing seat.

House dropouts include three incumbent Republicans and one incumbent Democrat, with two of them in potentially competitive seats. The House incumbents who dropped out were Reps. Stedman Seavey, R-Kennebunkport, Karl Ward, R-Dedham, Gary Hilliard, R-Belgrade, and Jennifer Parker, D-South Berwick. Former state Rep. Sherm Hutchins, R-Penobscot, has been tapped to replace Ward on the ballot, according to the Castine Patriot.

Seavey and Parker were the only ones to run relatively close races in 2016. Democrat Diane Denk of Kennebunk lost to Seavey by 3.4 percentage points in 2014 and by less than one point in 2016. Parker won by 8.3 points in 2016 over Republican Manley Gove of North Berwick.

Both districts lean Democratic. Denk and Gove are running again for a chamber where Democrats hold just a 74-70 plurality over Republicans. But we’ll need to see where candidates are replaced and who those replacements are to start handicapping these difficult-to-read races.

Poliquin to help negotiate defense bill

A member of Maine’s congressional delegation will have an added role in determining how the Pentagon allocates billions of dollars next year. Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has been named to the committee of conference that will hash out differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. Two members from each House and Senate committee are included on the panel. Negotiations begin this afternoon on what Poliquin called in a news release “one of the most important pieces of legislation passed by Congress each year.” The NDAA in its current form would appropriate $717 billion in spending in fiscal year 2019, along with a number of policy changes.

Reading list

  • A top Maine official said the child protective system isn’t ‘broken,’ then he outlined LePage’s proposed fixes. On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Commissioner Ricker Hamilton told the Legislature’s watchdog committee that he rejected assertions that the system is broken after the recent deaths of two young girls. But he said the system is “challenged and stressed at the moment” under a historic volume of reports and said that Gov. Paul LePage would soon submit legislation to create a new intake unit, adding 75 more caseworkers and replacing an aging computer system.
  • A state representative from Winthrop is recovering from first-degree burns after a brush fire accident on Tuesday. Rep. Craig Hickman, a third-term Democrat, was burned on his legs and chest after he tried to light a brush pile near his farm using gasoline. The gas fumes exploded and he was taken to a Portland hospital by LifeFlight helicopter. The House speaker’s office said he is recovering and is expected to stay for two days before returning home.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions is coming to Maine to discuss the opioid crisis. He will speak at the U.S. attorney’s office in Portland at 11 a.m. Friday. Law enforcement officials have been invited, but Sessions reportedly will not answer questions from the public or media.
  • Maine energy regulators will expand an audit of Central Maine Power to include customer communications. On Tuesday, the Maine Public Utilities Commission voted to expand the scope of an independent audit beyond billing problems to include the utility’s response to complaints about high bills. CMP installed a new billing system around the time of the severe October 2017 storm, after which customers complained about bills that in some cases were hundreds of dollars higher than normal. The commission launched an investigation on March 1 into CMP’s metering, billing and customer communications Liberty Consulting has been contracted to conduct the audit,

Why soccer is a flop at my house

As the World Cup nears its end, I’ve realized that I haven’t watched a single minute of a single game. I usually enjoy competition on a world-wide stage, no matter what the event. It’s why I spend so much time watching the Olympics.

One thing that bothers me about soccer is the flopping. That’s when a player pretends he or she was tripped or kicked and crashes to the ground, rolling around in fabricated agony in hopes the referees will declare a penalty against the other team. Sure, it happens in other sports but soccer players have no qualms about it, even though they obviously know every move they make is recorded and can be broken down in slow motion.

I once heard a friend defend the practice, saying it’s “part of the game” and that players should “take advantage of the rules as they’re written.” Whatever. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Programming note

Lawmakers have again skedaddled and many state officials have either taken vacations to enjoy summer in Maine or gone into their version of seasonal torpor. For that reason, Daily Brief will take Thursday off, but be back Friday to help you stay abreast of Maine political news. Here is your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.