Maine has a reputation for sending trailblazing female politicians to Washington. Two of those women, Republican Senators Margaret Chase Smith and Olympia Snowe, first entered national politics by winning election to Maine's 2nd Congressional District. This fall, another promising female politician from Maine hopes to take this same route.
Emily Ann Cain was just 24 when she won her first election to the Maine House of Representatives in 2004. But growing up, Cain says she didn't run for eight-grade class president, or dream of one day making it to Washington.
"Even if you'd asked me 15 years ago that this is what I would be doing now, I would have said no," Cain says. "Really, my first exposure was my best friend's mom: She ran for the general assembly in New Jersey when I was in high school."
Cain says she spent hours at her best friend's house and saw up close the routines and sacrifices that come with running for office.
"Her mom was also a Republican. I don't even know, today, if I would have voted for her because I don't really remember the issues, per se," Cain says. "But what I remember was a strong woman I knew, running for office."
There is a tinge of irony that it was a Republican woman who provided Cain with her first exposure to the possibility of a career in politics and public service.
The other two, the late Margaret Chase Smith, and Olympia Snowe, were moderate Republicans known for their willingness to compromise and work with members of both parties on solutions to the nation's problems.
"Emily is a quick study. She gets along with people really well. And I think she works to try to find common ground on issues," says Hannah Pingree.
Hannah Pingree says those strengths were apparent from the moment Emily Cain arrived in Augusta, and were a big reason why she chose her to be House chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. Pingree, the former speaker of the Maine House, is supporting Cain's candidacy in the 2nd District.
"Really, it's the chair's job to keep the process moving, to deal with complicated issues and to make it not partisan. And Emily really excelled at that," Pingree says, "you know, balancing many different issues, from education funding to health care funding to the revenues of how we're going to pay for it."
Cain's tenure chairing the committee, paralleled the financial downturn, making the normal challenges of the budget process even more difficult.
Ryan Low, who manages government relations for the University of Maine System, was former Gov. John Baldacci's point person on the state budget. Low remembers tense meetings with Cain and other Democrats and Republicans on the committee.
"In a $6 billion budget, everyone can pick the one item that they hate, and just insist, 'That's the issue - I'm not going to support any budget that does this or does that,'" Low says.
Low says Cain was instrumental in keeping Democrats and Republicans at the table, talking, in an effort to work through these kinds of roadblocks. But at the same time, he says she was also willing to take a tough line on issues that were important to her and her Democratic caucus.
"Anyone can reach a deal if you give up everything that you want," Low says. "She has a great ability, still has that great ability, to know what those core issues are."
As she campaigns, Cain has been explaining how she'd tackle some of the key problems facing 2nd District voters. At a recent Lewiston debate, Cain was asked about high unemployment and the loss of mill jobs in the region.
"It's a combination of focusing on education and training opportunities for people in rural Maine, who want to stay there, that's place based, that they don't have to drive three to four hours to get to. It's a combination of that, plus support for small businesses," Cain said.
Education is another priority for Cain, who says she'll fight to expand access to early childhood education and to make college more affordable by lowering the interest rate on student loans and expanding access to Pell Grants. Cain supports equal pay for equal work, an increase of the minimum wage and collective bargaining at the state and federal level.
And, unlike her opponent, Cain says she believes there is a path to creating a National Park in the North Maine Woods that preserves hunting, snowmobiling and other longtime pursuits in the forest. There are also key differences between the candidates on gay marriage and abortion.
"I have been unwavering in my work to protect a woman's right to make her own health care decisions. And I firmly believe that women's health care decisions should be made between her and her doctor. I'm also the only candidate in this race who has voted in favor of marriage equality at every turn," she said at a recent event.
If there's an establishment candidate in the Democratic primary, Cain is it. Her stand on women's issues, and her record in Augusta, has helped her win the endorsement of powerful national groups like Emily's List. In March, she reported having $300,000 in her campaing coffers, thanks, in part, to donations by powerful Democrats in Chellie Pingree's fundraising network, like her husband, Donald Sussman.
If she wins, though, it will likely be because she's convinced voters that her pragmatic approach to leadership and governing puts her in the same mold as the two previous women who represented Maine's 2nd District.