CAPE ELIZABETH — State Sen. Cynthia Dill may launch a bid for election to the U.S. Senate.
If she decides to run, Dill would be the third Democrat vying to unseat U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who has been in Maine’s congressional delegation since 1979.
Although Snowe has been unbeatable, the number of candidates lined up to oppose her this year – two Democrats and two Republicans – suggests some politicians believe she is vulnerable from both the left and the right.
State Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland and former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap are the declared Democratic hopefuls. Harpswell activist Andrew Ian Dodge and Scott D’Ambroise, a former Lisbon Falls selectman, are challenging Snowe for the Republican nomination.
In announcing her possible candidacy, Dill launched an opening salvo against Snowe by drawing attention to the senator’s wealth and saying senate Republicans are “out of touch” with American families. Snowe is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, with a reported net wealth of $9.88 million, according to Roll Call.
Dill posted her announcement on her blog and sent an email to supporters. In it, she said she is considering a senate campaign “against all odds.” She clarified that in an interview Wednesday.
“Sen. Snowe has a broad range of support,” Dill said during a break from the new legislative session in Augusta. “She won the last election with 70 percent of the vote. But it’s also a money question. She’s got a huge war chest, and in this day and age, it’s hard to run against that.”
Dill was first elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 2006, and won a special election in Senate District 7 (Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, and the eastern part of Scarborough) in April. She defeated Louis Maietta, a former Republican representative from South Portland, with nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Dill has been an outspoken critic of the GOP and Gov. Paul LePage. Last year, she founded “Friends of the Maine Woods” to support a proposed national park on land in Aroostook County owned by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby. The Legislature voted against studying the park in its last session.
She said in her announcement that Snowe and the Republicans have drifted too far to the right, and that Maine needs a senator “in Washington fighting for the middle class and taking a stand for good people struggling to find and keep jobs, put food on their table and protect their families.”
The potential Senate contender said she is soliciting input from Mainers while meeting with “insiders” in assessing whether she’ll run. A Facebook group, Cynthia Dill for U.S. Senate, had 304 followers by Wednesday afternoon.
Dill said she’d make a decision within a few weeks, and that one of the biggest factors is financial support.
“There has been a real outpouring of support on the grass-roots level, but to make it feasible there has to be a commitment from people to put their money where their mouth is,” she said Wednesday.
Dill said it saddens her that money is such a factor, but that it’s a fact of modern politics that taking on an incumbent like Snowe would be an expensive endeavor.
But before defeating Snowe, Dill would have to compete against Hinck and Dunlap for the Democratic nomination.
Hinck on Tuesday said he welcomes Dill to the “Senate debate” on Tuesday.
Dill, meanwhile, refrained from discussing her possible Democratic rivals.
“I haven’t formally decided, so I won’t try to sell myself because I think highly of both of them,” she said. “But should I decide to run, it’s because not only do I think I can win the primary, but I think I have a decent shot at the general election.”
Dill may be optimistic about her chances, but at least one expert isn’t sold.
Mark Brewer, a University of Maine political science professor who studies U.S. party politics, said he doesn’t think anyone stands a chance against Snowe.
“Without saying anything about Cynthia Dill in particular, I don’t know whether any Democrat could take on Snowe in a general election,” Brewer said.
He said Snowe would be a formidable opponent, noting she has handily won every election she’s run in since first seeking election to the U.S. House in 1978. Her only close calls were the 2nd Congressional District campaigns against Democrat Pat McGowan in 1990 and1992, which she won by 2 percentage points and 7 percentage points, respectively.
“Snowe’s security in her job is roughly the same as it’s always been,” Brewer said. “There was a lot of talk a few years ago that she’d face a rough primary challenge from the right. I suppose that’s where she might be vulnerable, but she’s never been vulnerable in the general.”
State Sen. Cynthia Dill