- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire from the Senate sparked a wide-open scramble Wednesday among potential Democratic and Republican candidates just two weeks before a deadline to qualify for the June primary ballot.

Four Democrats who already had announced they are running could be joined by U.S. Reps. Michael H. Michaud and Chellie Pingree and former Gov. John Baldacci, all of whom are weighing a bid for the open seat. If Ms. Pingree and Mr. Michaud both run, that would leave three of Maine’s four congressional seats up for grabs.

Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Maine Senate President Kevin Raye could join the Republican race. Former independent Gov. Angus King also is weighing a run.

“Everybody who has any ambition will look at it and ask if this is the time,” said Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Colby College.

The deadline was weighing on all candidates, who would have to collect 2,000 signatures by March 15 to qualify for the ballot.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage has no plans to extend the deadline but would consider it if legislators introduced a bill to change the statutory deadline to give candidates more time, Adrienne Bennett, his spokeswoman, said.

By Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Ms. Snowe’s stunning announcement that she was leaving after three terms, Ms. Pingree was collecting signatures, while Mr. Michaud and Mr. Baldacci picked up petitions from the secretary of state’s office.

The moderate Republican’s announcement creates one of the best opportunities nationwide for Democrats in a race in which Ms. Snowe was considered a safe bet to win another six-year term. Democrats are struggling to retain control of the Senate with a 51-47 majority that includes two independents who caucus with them.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, because I don’t think there’s any denying that everyone figured it would go to Snowe. Now the favorability is on the side of Democrats,” said Lizzy Reinholt, spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party.

Four Democrats, state Rep. Jon Hinck, state Sen. Cynthia Dill, former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Portland home builder Ben Pollard, all announced they are running in the Democratic Senate primary.

Other potential Democrats in addition to Ms. Pingree, Mr. Michaud and Mr. Baldacci include Eliot Cutler, who ran as an independent in the governor’s race and finished second to Republican Paul LePage, Mr. Maisel said.

On the Republican side, Scott D’Amboise, a small-business owner who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006, could be joined by Mr. Summers or Mr. Raye, or both. Tea party activist Andrew Ian Dodge dropped out of the primary, opting to run as an independent.

Mr. King, another independent, said he would decided within a few days even though independents aren’t bound by the March 15 deadline.

“I’m giving it some thought for the very reason that Olympia quit. It’s just not working down there and maybe we need to try something different,” Mr. King said Wednesday. “We have serious problems in this country, but we can’t begin to solve them until we solve this shrill deadlock.”

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