Former Maine Gov. John Baldacci is saying everything that a would-be gubernatorial candidate would say prior to formally announcing a run for office. There's just one catch to him running: He's pushing the state's two Democratic U.S. Reps., Chellie Pingree and Michael Michaud, to seek the party nomination.
"I've encouraged them to look at the race, get in the race," said Baldacci, during a phone interview on Thursday.
He later added, "I'm going to work very closely with them and it's not directly contingent upon them but it's a small enough state that we should be able to figure out" who's in the best position to defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Baldacci also reiterated his statement from last week that he planned to make a decision by April.
Baldacci still resides in Maine, where he served two terms as governor, from 2003 to 2011. His successor, LePage, last month summed up a potential Baldacci candidacy by quipping, "Christmas comes early sometimes."
Though Baldacci replied that his candidacy would provide "a bag of coal" for LePage -- dismissing the Republican's comment as "typical of the outbursts and continued outbursts" he's made in office -- there is some merit to Baldacci being a potentially weak candidate. His approval rating sat mired in the mid-30s as he prepared to leave office.
"I know I have a lot of challenges because I made a lot of tough decisions as governor," said Baldacci about what would be in store if he ran.
Baldacci is banking on the idea that LePage's rhetoric and record in office will make him look better by comparison. "I think first of all, this governor and his lack of leadership has enhanced my standing with the public more than when I was in office," said Baldacci, adding that his favorability rating has "gone up since I've been out of office."
Maine is also different from most other states in that the statewide winner usually comes from a field of at least three competitive general election candidates. Only once in the last five gubernatorial races has the victorious candidate actually achieved a majority of the vote. Independent Sen. Angus King won his second term as governor with 59 percent of the vote in 1998, but he only received 35 percent of the vote in 1994.
Baldacci himself won both of his gubernatorial races with only a plurality of the vote, taking in 47 percent of the vote in 2002 and 38 percent in 2006. LePage followed up in 2010 with a win by earning 38 percent of the vote, compared to independent Eliot Cutler's 36 percentage points. Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell only claimed 19 percent.
In another three-way race, "Eliot doesn't win under these circumstances," said Baldacci. "He was the closest to LePage in terms of head-to-head match ups. I think his day was four years ago."
The Democrat added that he thought Cutler "becomes more of a detriment to removing LePage" if he enters the race at a time when a Democratic candidate "should be elected." However, he later mentioned that if Democrats "unite behind a Democratic candidate, the Democrats win the election, regardless of Cutler in the race."
In order for that to happen, "we need to pick up another 30,000 votes in high-performing communities," said Baldacci.
While he wouldn't specify which areas he meant, a look at the 2012 presidential election results show President Obama performed best along the southern coast, from York County to to Hancock County. In Cumberland County, the most populous county in Maine and home of Portland, Obama broke 60 percent, claiming more than 100,000 votes. Penobscot County, which is where Bangor and the University of Maine (Orono) are located, is the state's second-largest county and gave Obama just over 50 percent of the vote, suggesting that the president could have drawn out more young Democrats there like his campaign did in Portland.
The former governor explained that Mainers would be looking for something new out of him if he ran and won, which he referred to as "Baldacci 2.0." Such change would come by courting two up-and-coming Democrats from the legislature to join his administration: state Senate President Justin Alfond and state House Speaker Mark Eves. "I would want to bring them in, I would want them to have key roles," said Baldacci, further mentioning that he would like to "help promote" them as next generation of Maine leaders.
If Baldacci decides to run, one of the first calls he would make would be to the Democratic consultant Mark Squier of Purple Strategies, one of the founders of McMahon Squier and Associates, who helped propel Baldacci into the Blaine House. McMahon, Squier and Associates vice president Kristen McMahon also worked as Baldacci's media consultant in 2006. "It's got to be Mark Squier. It's got to be Mark and [Democratic strategist] Keith [Boykin]," said Baldacci. "Mark Squier would be the first one up... Him and Jimmy Mitchell."
According to his work biography, Mitchell is a state lobbyist and former chairman of the Maine Democratic Party who worked on both of Baldacci's gubernatorial campaigns.
Baldacci said he expects the Democratic nominee will need to raise $3 million to $4 million to win for his or her own campaign, though that number "could go as high as $10 million." That excludes independent expenditures.
Though LePage, Baldacci and Cutler have not officially announced they are running, all three are in active campaign mode: LePage's team is fundraising while criticizing Baldacci; Baldacci said he is "listening to people" while "walking up and down Main Street"; and Cutler already launched an exploratory committee.