It’s not often Democratic and Republican party operatives in Maine agree, but both say that control of the state Senate is up in the air this November, with close races in half a dozen of the 35 Senate seats that are up for grabs.
The importance of who controls the Maine Senate has been spelled out by leaders in both parties.
“The Senate in Maine is in play and we need to take it,” former Gov. Paul LePage urged those attending a GOP rally with Vice President Mike Pence in Hermon last week. “We need the Senate. If we get the Senate, we can slow down the spending.”
On the House side, Republicans failed to put up candidates for 19 seats, and Democrats are favored to hold their majority in the 151-seat chamber. Democrats also want to keep control of the Senate in order to steer the agenda in the Legislature for the next two years.
University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer says it’s hard to gauge which way the battle for the Senate will go.
“The Democrats have it now, Republicans would desperately like to take it back and they have an opportunity to do that I think, ” he says. “The control of the Maine Senate is a pure toss up.”
There are three open seats in Bangor, Waldo County and York County that are drawing outside campaign expenditures, but not much public attention. Brewer says that’s because most of the spending and the attention has gone to this year’s U.S. Senate race, and to the president’s efforts to win an electoral vote in the 2nd Congressional District.
“They are incredibly important races but they are just not getting the attention from the media, from the voters,” he says.
Brewer points to competitive races such as one in Aroostook County where Democratic incumbent Mike Carpenter is being challenged by Republican state Rep. Trey Stewart, and another in Hancock County where incumbent Democrat Louis Luchini is being challenged by former Republican Sen. Brian Langley.
University of New England political science professor Brian Duff says these contests show that both parties have started to pay more attention to legislative races.
“These downticket races matter a lot and they have started to pay a lot more attention to recruiting good candidates and finding the competitive races,” he says.
And two incumbent Republican senators have been the targets of independent expenditures, as well as Democratic party spending. Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow is being challenged by Democratic Rep. Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro, and Sen. Matt Pouliot of Augusta faces a challenge from Democrat Kalie Hess, a race in which spending has already topped $300,000.
And both parties say there may be a surprise or two in other races that have not generated as much spending.