As incumbent Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud departs his 2nd District seat to run for governor, he's opened the door for a host of candidates from both parties who are hoping to be sent to Washington. One of them is former state Senate President Kevin Raye, who is making his third bid for Congress.
Raye will face former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin in the Republican primary this June. But confident Raye supporters say they believe their candidate has a distinct advantage.
Woman: "I think one of his strengths is that he can get people to work together."
Man: "I think he understands working across the line."
Man: "I think he showed that in Augusta, where he can work across the aisle."
Man: "He is a consensus builder."
Kevin Raye, say supporters, can compromise like no one else in the race. They say that much like fellow GOP Senate moderates Susan Collins and former Sen. Olympia Snowe - in whose office he once worked - Raye could win votes from Democrats as well.
"When you're elected to public office, you have an obligation to work with others who have also been elected to public office," Raye says.
But that sense of compromise and cooperation has virtually disappeared in Washington, says Raye. Yes, he admits, there will be struggles as each individual tries to solve problems in his or her own way.
"But it can't be simply a battle of ideas," he says. "You have to, at some point, move beyond the debate to actually getting things done and solving problems. And that's the spirit that I brought to my work as president of the Maine Senate."
Which he held from 2010 to 2012, when term limits prevented him from running for state Senate again. Raye considered a run for U.S. Senate that year, but opted instead to challenge incumbent Mike Michaud in the 2nd District. Ten years earlier, in 2002, Raye made his first bid for Congress, winning the GOP primary, but losing narrowly to Michaud.
Raye sees his candidacy as an "antidote" to the dysfunction that has paralyzed Washington. And among his top priorities: fixing the economy and controlling debt. Raye says he's a strong supporter of a federal balanced budget amendment.
"When I was working for Sen. Snowe she was in a debate where someone actually said to her, 'Well, the balanced budget amendment is just a gimmick.' And she famously replied, 'No no, if it was a gimmick, Congress would have passed it long ago.'"
And Raye agrees. Not having a constitutional rule requiring a balanced budget has allowed the federal government to "shirk" its fiscal responsibilities, he says.
Speaking to an issue that is traditionally viewed as important to voters in the 2nd District, Raye says he has always been an outspoken supporter of gun rights. And he says he understands the struggles of everyday Maine people.
"I'm a small business person. My wife Karen and I own and operate Raye's Mustard Mill in Eastport which was founded by my great-grandfather's brother 114 years ago," he says.
Raye says he was born and raised in the 2nd District. He worked his way through Bates College, and returned home to Washington County, where he and his wife settled down to run the mustard mill, which - Raye is quick to point out - they didn't inherit, but purchased with their own money.
"So we know what it is to sign both sides of a paycheck, we know what it is to deal with the taxes, the insurance, the regulatory environment that thousands of small businesses across Maine deal with everyday," Raye says.
Republican Sen. Brian Langley who currently serves District 28, says as Senate President, Raye believed so strongly in civility in politics that he would ask Democratic leadership to dinner every Thursday night to build relationships. He calls Raye a "gentleman."
"That's sorely missed in Washington right now," Langley says.
Raye faces off against Bruce Poliquin in the June 10 primary. The winner will advance to the general election in November.