Sunday, March 9, 2014
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine said Friday that she will not run for governor in 2014, narrowing the field of big-name Democrats who are considering challenging Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
Pingree's decision clears the way for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud or former Gov. John Baldacci to enter what is expected to be another hard-fought race involving at least three leading candidates: LePage, independent Eliot Cutler and the Democratic nominee.
"I have given it a lot of thought and I am very happy serving in the House," Pingree said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald. "I have a lot of opportunities to do good things for Maine people so my decision is to stay right here."
Michaud and Baldacci could not be reached for comment Friday.
But Michaud's chief of staff in his Washington office, Peter Chandler, said Michaud has not decided whether to seek the Democratic nomination.
Maine Democrats have been eager to win back the Blaine House since LePage -- a conservative Republican in a relatively moderate state -- won the 2010 election with 39 percent of the vote.
Michaud, Baldacci and Pingree have openly considered gubernatorial bids but have agreed that only one would enter the race, to avoid a high-profile and costly primary.
Steve Woods of Yarmouth is the only Democrat to register as a candidate so far.
While Pingree easily won a third term representing Maine's 1st District in November, her left-leaning political views were seen by some as a potential liability in a statewide race.
Michaud won 55 percent of the vote in the more conservative 2nd District in November, against a well-known Republican challenger, Senate President Kevin Raye.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, a wealthy hedge fund manager who is majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald.
Pingree said Friday that she and Michaud "talk about the race quite frequently" and she felt honored by the encouragement she got.
Her appointment to the powerful House Appropriations Committee presented "an unexpected opportunity," she said, and she wants to work on many federal issues that are important to Maine.
She acknowledged that the prospect of a tight, three-way race was also a factor in her decision not to run.
"It is a tough combination with a three-way race, so that is something everyone has to consider," Pingree said.
"I know there are a lot of good people thinking about running and there is a lot of frustration with the current governor, so I have no doubt it will be a lively race."
Her announcement immediately turned attention back to Michaud -- a six-term incumbent -- since Baldacci has made it clear that he will run only if neither member of Congress does.
Michaud has said that his recent appointment as the top-ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee is a key factor for him. An influential voice on veterans issues, Michaud would be in line for the committee's chair if he were re-elected and Democrats regained control of the House.
"I think Mike has really proven himself to be a strong candidate, particularly in this last election cycle," said Michael Cuzzi, a former Democratic campaign operative and a political columnist for the Portland Press Herald. "He is very well known to people in his district and has done some extraordinary constituent service, especially in the area of veterans. And I think he would have statewide appeal."
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