AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District told the Bangor Daily News on Monday that she’ll decide on a 2018 gubernatorial run by January, making for even more uncertainty in an already crowded Democratic primary.
Pingree, 62, of North Haven, is Maine’s most influential Democratic officeholder and has easily won four of her five terms in the district covering the state’s southern half. She could upend her party’s June 12 primary, but she lost handily in her only statewide campaign — against Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in 2002.
In an interview after an appearance at a farming conference in Augusta, Pingree said that working on statewide issues such as agriculture in Maine would be appealing. But she said the Democrats also could take back the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018.
“I appreciate [that] people have called me and asked me and I‘m certainly giving it some thought,” Pingree said, “but I’m closing in on a decision because you can’t wait forever.”
Before Monday, Pingree has been quiet about her consideration of the race to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Paul LePage next year, but Chief of Staff Jesse Connolly confirmed in September that she was considering a run. He said Monday that she would likely decide on running by Jan. 1.
Pingree said that the current 10-person field has “some great people,” but that she has “a lot of experience in Maine and I know a lot of people.” Privately, some Democrats who worry about the progressivity and strength of the Democrats’ splintered field want Pingree to run.
Attorney General Janet Mills of Farmington, former House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick and Sanford attorney and Army veteran Adam Cote arguably the leaders in the Democratic field, though former state Rep. Diane Russell of Portland and Hallowell lobbyist Betsy Sweet have progressive followings.
Both Mills and Eves supported 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won a landslide in Maine’s Democratic caucuses last year. Cote lost to Pingree as a moderate candidate in the 1st District primary in 2008.
No Democrat is seen as a prohibitive favorite in the primary as it stands. Pingree would likely enter as the favorite, but her general election path would still be uncertain.
The overall field of 23 candidates also includes five Republicans — Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew of South China and businessman Shawn Moody of Gorham — as well as Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes, a Buckfield independent.
If Pingree leaves her seat, it could also touch off a realignment in Maine politics. Several Democrats would likely jump into a primary in the 1st District, where there are 186,000 registered Democrats to 134,000 Republicans, according to state data.
While the Democrat may be favored in the general election, it isn’t an unwinnable seat for the right Republican. Pingree won her first term with 55 percent of votes against Republican Charlie Summers in 2008, but she has boosted her margins in every election since.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.