Maine’s Wide-Open Primary
Olympia Snowe’s retirement leaves an open field.

Charlie Summers, Maine’s secretary of state


When Senator Olympia Snowe (R., Me.) unexpectedly announced she would retire at the end of her term, the Pine Tree State’s political scene erupted. Six candidates have entered the race for the Republican nomination to succeed Snowe, and all of them have spoken with National Review Online about their infant campaigns.

Currently, ex-governor Angus King, an independent, leads all the Republican and Democratic candidates by large margins. But King is a known quantity — or at least a vaguely remembered one. If the Maine GOP fields a strong candidate, and the Democratic party offers a mediocre one, Republicans could triumph in a three-way split, à la Governor Paul LePage’s victory in 2010. Here’s a look at the contenders who will face off in the primary on June 12.

From Oxford, Maine, Rick Bennett is the state’s Republican national committeeman. He also is CEO of GMI Ratings, a research firm headquartered in Portland. In his previous political life, he served two terms in the state House of Representatives and three terms in the state Senate, including a stint as president of the Senate starting in 2002. The closest he has come to Congress was a tough loss to John Baldacci, 46 to 41 percent, in 1994, in Maine’s 2nd congressional district. Bennett walked 750 miles while campaigning that year, as the 2nd district is the largest one east of the Mississippi River.

“I didn’t expect to be running for elected office this spring,” Bennett, who was the treasurer of Snowe’s reelection campaign, tells NRO. “When Olympia Snowe decided to retire, it wasn’t my first inclination.”

However, he explains, “I have a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old. They’re wonderful kids I’ll be releasing into the world in a few years, and I frankly worry about the world I’m going to be releasing them into.” He especially laments that the Senate under Harry Reid has repeatedly failed to pass a budget. This “total abdication” of responsibility for budgeting is “nearly criminal,” he says.

Representative Paul Ryan has earned Bennett’s esteem “for putting forward a budget and taking responsibility,” and Bennett singles out for particular praise Ryan’s plan to transform a number of federal programs into block grants to the states. A caveat: “I think some of his other proposals relating to tax policy deserve to be debated,” he says. “I am reviewing those currently.”

Meanwhile, Bennett has budget ideas of his own. Specifically, he plans to revive a plank from his 1994 campaign, calling for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

On foreign policy, Bennett says: “I’m a staunch advocate for the strong alliance we have with Israel. I do think the Obama administration has been sending some mixed messages to Iran, and I think we need to take a very tough line.” And Afghanistan? “Like most Americans, I’d like to see our troops come home as soon as possible, but setting timetables and telling the Taliban when we’re coming home isn’t healthy.”

Bennett distinguishes himself from the other candidates by noting his work history. “I’m different because I haven’t spent my whole life in elected office,” he says. “I’ve been creating jobs.”