Tardy an early favorite with GOP to replace Michaud

The prospect of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democrat representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, jumping into the 2014 gubernatorial race has a new crop of aspirants beginning to plant seeds of interest in replacing him.

Just last Friday, someone anonymously reserved a pair of domain names – joshtardyforcongress.com and tardyformaine.com – that made it look like Josh Tardy, the former House Minority Leader, might be interested in making a run.

“I am certainly considering a run for [the 2nd District],” said Tardy in an email. “I think I join a big group of folks who are wondering if Congressman Michaud will actually enter a race for governor in which he will be an underdog. In any event, I am keeping my options open!”

Here’s a look at a few of the names that are either rumored to be interested or have been identified by some Maine Republican insiders.

Let the [speculation] games begin.

Josh Tardy – The Newport politician has a sterling reputation with conservatives, having helped recruit and fundraise for state lawmakers that made up the 2010 wave to win the Legislature for Republicans for the first time in decades. He also was the go-to man for Democrats looking to cut deals when he led the GOP as House Minority leader. The combination sets him up as a formidable primary and general election candidate if he choose to run.

Kevin Raye – The former Senate President from Perry has run twice and lost against Michaud, but in an open race he may finally be able land the prize. All the attributes – such as being former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snow’s chief-of-staff – that made him the GOP’s best hope in past races remain, although this time he’s got two losses hanging around his neck. Maybe three times is a charm.

Blaine Richardson – A 30-year Navy veteran who took a stab at the Republican nomination in 2012, Richardson reportedly has pull with Maine’s active Tea Party voters. But as one Republican source puts it, he has “very limited appeal” who would be a poor general election candidate, even in Maine’s more conservative House district.

Bruce Poliquin – Don’t count out the wealthy former Wall Street investment banker who can fund his own campaigns. After failed gubernatorial and U.S. Senate bids, the former state treasurer has remained in the public eye, securing regular radio spots and other media. “There has never been a Mainer so desperate to get elected to higher office,” says one well-connected Republican. Sure the Waterville native lives in Georgetown, but there’s no rule you have to live in the congressional district you represent. Besides, he can always buy a 2nd District second home.

Alex Willette  - This 24-year-old Mapleton resident is sure to win votes for his sponsorship of a measure that raised the speed limit on I-95 in northern Maine to 75 miles per hour. But despite serving in his second term in the Maine Legislature, it’s doubtful he’ll put up a credible bid in a field that will surely be crowded with better-known candidates. He’s eager though – sources say he’s already made the rounds in Washington to try and rally support from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Deb Plowman – A well-regarded former state senator from Hampden, Plowman carries conservative appeal, having campaigned closely in 2010 alongside Gov. Paul LePage. She also knows how to negotiate with Democrats, after serving mostly in the minority as a state lawmaker. Insiders, though, say her last place performance in the 2012 GOP Senate primary revealed weakness and she’s also been hurt by the “recent GOP Penobscot County chair flap.”

Steve Abbott – The former chief-of-staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins turned in a disappointing performance during his 2010 gubernatorial bid, but remains extremely popular among Maine GOP hands. He’s also lifted his name recognition in the 2nd District by serving as the athletic director at the University of Maine and remains one of the state’s shrewdest political minds on either side of the aisle. But his appetite for running – or lack thereof – remains his biggest handicap.

My next post will provide a comparable list of potential Democratic candidates.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a breaking news editor for CNN's digital politics team in Washington. Previously, she was a senior news editor with U.S. News and World Report, where she began her three-year tenure as a political writer. She spent much of 2012 on the road covering the presidential campaign in battleground states across the country. Metzler proudly tells all who will listen she hails from the great state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College.