ROCKLAND, Maine — Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial field seemed even more unsettled on Friday after U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ decision not to seek the Republican nomination, with one of the party’s candidates calling herself the frontrunner and more considering runs.

The moderate fourth-term senator cast a heavy air of uncertainty over the race as she publicly mulled a run to replace the term-limited Gov. Paul LePage. Now that she’s out, the three-person Republican field is almost sure to grow while Democrats see an enhanced pick-up opportunity.

Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, former Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers of Scarborough told the Bangor Daily News on Friday that they’re considering runs. Newport lobbyist Josh Tardy was pushing Collins to run and now may run himself.

Meanwhile, two members of the existing Republican field tried to take quick advantage of Collins’ decision on Friday. Former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew of South China jokingly asked “Who?” when asked about Collins and said she had “no opinion” on her exit.

“I am the frontrunner and it allows people who have been waiting for her decision to now firmly get on board my campaign,” Mayhew said.

Former Maine House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who is also running, said Collins made “the right decision for Susan” and said candidates are still waiting to see “who’s going to be in the lineup” and that few voters are paying attention at this stage of the race.

“Whether or not Collins is in or Thibodeau is in or Fredette is in, all that stuff is being played out now,” he said. “It will change two or three times between now and January, when things start to really firm up and people start to pay a little bit of attention.”

Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, the third candidate in the race, said on Facebook that Collins would be a “powerful ally” if he gets to the Blaine House.

Thibodeau, who is term-limited in 2018, is considering a run, saying Friday that “Mrs. Thibodeau and I will have plenty to talk about and we’ll see how it goes.” He gave no timeframe for a decision on running.

Shawn Moody of Gorham, the founder of Moody’s Collision Centers, is likely to declare a Republican run next month. Tardy said his decision on running isn’t imminent and while Friday was “primetime” for Collins’ announcement, it’s still the “preseason” in the race and there’s more time to decide.

Summers, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1994, 2004, 2008 and 2012, joked on Friday that he’s “never met a race I didn’t like.” He’s said he’s “seriously” considering a run and would have to decide soon.

While the Republican field is unsettled, Collins’ decision also could mean that Democrats and at least one of the race’s two independents — Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes of Buckfield and Freeport consultant Alan Caron — have a better shot at the Blaine House.

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett — whose primary field now sits at 10 candidates after the Thursday entry of Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland — said in a statement that the Republican field now represents the “fringe of the party.” Maine Republican Party spokesman Garrett Murch shot back that Collins’ decision didn’t make Democrats “more popular.”

Adam Lee of Cumberland, chairman of Lee Auto Malls and one of the highest-profile Democrats considering a run, said he edged off the idea of running before Collins bowed out.

Instead, he said he’ll wait for two or three months and hope that a party front-runner will emerge whom he can get behind. The best candidates to do that may be Attorney General Janet Mills of Farmington, former Maine House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick or attorney and military veteran Adam Cote of Sanford.

But Lee said he reserves the right to launch a campaign. His party is at a bit of a nadir in Maine after losing the 2nd Congressional District to President Donald Trump in 2016. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the first Republican to hold the seat in two decades, was also re-elected there.

“I think we have an opportunity, but we’ve had a lot opportunities in the last 10 years and we haven’t managed to seize them,” Lee said.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...