Maine GOP Confident in House Races Despite Incumbent Dropouts
AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican leaders in Augusta say they're confident that this is the year the GOP will regain control of the Maine House of Representatives. They cite the fact that the party will field candidates in all but one of the House districts, and have more House candidates than the Democrats. But the House GOP caucus actually was dealt with something of a setback this year, as nearly 40 percent of incumbents eligible to seek re-election decided to bow out.
Like many of the Republicans who have put their names on the ballot for this year's state House contests, Lee Fellman is new to politics and anxious to see his party regain a majority in the House that it enjoyed four years ago.
"I have never run for public office before," Fellman said. "I was motivated to run this year as I see the opportunity for real change to benefit Maine."
Fellman of Readfield is one of the 150 Republicans that members of the House candidate team was able to recruit to compete in 151 House contests. The Republicans outdid Democrats, who only have 139 candidates. House Republican Leader Ken Fredette says he believes the field will easily connect to the voters in their districts.
"We have young people, we have retired people," Fredette said. "Mothers and fathers and grandparents are running. What all of these candidates have is a love for Maine and an enthusiasm for improving Maine. The 2014 Republican slate is a truly outstanding group of men and women. We are ready to work and we are ready to win."
What Fredette didn't mention during his State House press conference is that 18 House Republicans have decided not to run, even though they have the advantage of being incumbents.
"I think that the real story here is that nearly 40 percent of the Republican House caucus decided not to run for re-election — that is shocking," said Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.
He says that while House Republicans may have fielded more candidates in this election cycle, the dynamics in the fall campaign favor Democrats, who have have 66 incumbents seeking re-election. Five independents who tend to vote with Democrats are seeking re-election in their respective districts. On top of that, Eves says there are 52 open seats in which Democrats and Republicans will duke it out in a level playing field where many candidates will be relatively new to the voters.
"So the combination with our candidate recruitment, the starting point of the Republicans in the House, I'm feeling very good about holding majorities in the House," Eves said.
Only 10 out of 76 Democrats who were eligible to for re-election decided not to return to Augusta. Democratic leaders are quick to single out the rough ride many Republicans found themselves on in legislative sessions that often pitted constituents back home against Gov. Paul LePage's conservative political agenda. Some were forced by those pressures to join Democrats in overriding LePage vetoes on important issues such as the state budget. Democrats say these Republicans were the victims of quote "LePage fatigue." House GOP Leader Ken Fredette acknowledges that last Legislature was challenging for some of his members.
"And I don't think there would be anybody who would disagree that change is difficult," Fredette said. "Change sometimes means that you need to make more of an effort and that it's going to be more of a difficult process and so I think people have been here. They decided not to run. They have personal lives, personal obligations that they chose to do and so I would agree that change is difficult and some of them may have said, 'you know, I need to spend some other time on some other priorities in my life,' but I think that's a normal part of the process."
And Republican House leaders say that LePage will motivate their voters to show up on Election Day. Democrats say LePage will also motivate voters who want to preserve Democratic majorities in the Legislature.