Democrat Dunlap Declares

The 2012 Maine Senate Race against Senator Snowe

Although Maine people have yet to vote on state-wide and local matters in 2011, there has been big news lately for 2012.  

Coming on the heels of Kevin Raye’s formation of an exploratory committee for a congressional run against Representative Michaud, former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has announced his candidacy for the Senate seat held by Olympia Snowe. (It appears that another Democrat, Jon Hinck will also announce soon. This post does not assess his candidacy.)

Senator Snowe has been one of the most popular Maine politicians in recent history, with a long history in the state and particularly in the second congressional district. Her Senate races have been blowouts, with Snowe garnering 74.4% of the vote in 2006, 69% in 2000, and 60% in 1994. And her polling numbers have tended to be high state-wide. In recent years, her approval numbers are often higher outside of her party than within.

Matt Dunlap likely does not have very high name recognition at this time. Most state Secretaries of State are not in the public eye very much, although Dunlap has been out and about recently, talking about and in support of election day registration in Maine. As Secretary of State, Dunlap did not appear to be carrying out his work as a partisan.

So does Dunlap have a chance?

There are some real hurdles for any challenger to Senator Snowe.  She is very well-known and has been well-liked. She is a strong campaigner and will be able to raise a good deal of money.

But it’s — of course — far too early to say she will be re-elected.

For one, while Snowe has had close connections to the second congressional district and won that seat eight times, Dunlap is a good candidate for the district. He’s held, let us say, a range of jobs before being elected to the state legislature. In fact, his official biography as Secretary of State notes that

Dunlap’s widely varied professional career has included extensive work as a cook, a bartender and bar manager, radio show host, proofreader, research assistant, waiter, editor, writer, fur trapper, and textile worker.

And after his service as Secretary of State, he was Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. As the pictures at this link show, he hunts.

With this profile, Dunlap could do ok in the second district and that would make a state-wide win more possible.

Dunlap is a smart person who comes across as a person people can relate to. This matters in politics, but it really matters in the second district.

Also Snowe’s record in her second district congressional races, now awhile ago, is less impressive than her Senate vote totals. To be sure, she did have a number of landslide wins. However, in three races (1992, 1990 and 1978), her winning percentage ranged from 49% to 51%. 

Moreover, while Senator Snowe probably continues to have a reputation as independent in her voting patterns, it’s hard to think of recent major votes where this is so, at least when it comes to economic issues.  At this point, there’s been little attention to her recent voting record, but her opponent would make it his business to tell people about it.

In a time when large majorities of the American public want taxes raised on millionaires and support spending on infrastructure and teachers, firefighters, and police-officers, Snowe has voted with other Senate Republicans against those revenue streams and spending priorities.  In the last year or so, she has has supported many, many filibusters and has become part of the solid bloc that led to remarkably large numbers of blocked Senate votes. 

Indeed, the fact that recently fewer Republicans than previously said that they wanted a Senate candidate more conservative than Snowe can be attributed both to declining number of Tea Party supporters in Maine and to Snowe’s movement to the right. 

At this point, Snowe has to be considered the favorite but Dunlap should not be counted out. Much will unfold this coming year, including votes Snowe will take and the political climate in the nation and the state. For instance, a recent poll found that Maine people support Occupy Wall Street by 47-32, but Maine’s political tides could shift.

As long as Dunlap can raise enough money for a credible candidacy, as of November 2011 he has has a chance of winning the seat. And before engaging in that campaign, he will need to win his party’s nomination.

And another tidbit of information: Should Dunlap be the nominee, the race will feature two UMaine alums running against each other.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.