Auburn legislator could be first GOP hopeful to challenge Angus King

Good morning from Augusta. A storm that will drop a foot of snow in some areas of Maine has delayed the opening of state offices until 10 a.m. and forced school cancellations from York to Aroostook counties.

So, grab another cup of coffee and turn with us to the rumor mill on the 2018 election, where independent U.S. Sen. Angus King may soon face his first opponent: state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn.

Brakey declined comment on Friday, but a Republican source said he’s gearing up to declare for the race shortly after the New Year.

Any Republican will have a tough time against King, a former two-term Maine governor who caucuses with Democrats and easily won his seat against five other challengers in 2012. He had a 63 percent approval rating in a Morning Consult survey released in September and his office said in November that the 72-year-old will run for re-election.

Brakey doesn’t have King’s statewide profile, but the 28-year-old is a rising star in his party. He cut his teeth in Maine politics as state director for Ron Paul’s insurgent presidential primary campaign in 2012, which culminated in a fight between Paul’s Maine backers and the party establishment at the Republican National Convention.

Since then, Brakey has been working within the system. The second-term state senator beat a Democratic incumbent in 2014, won re-election easily in November and was the driving force behind a bill that repealed Maine’s concealed handgun permit requirement in 2015.

Brakey also chaired Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign in Maine and has proved to be a good fundraiser in his own right, raising $59,000 for his first Senate campaign and $56,000 as of Oct. 28 for last month’s re-election bid.

His past performance and national ties indicate that he could get a national fundraising apparatus up to challenge King, who had $169,000 on hand as of September’s end and raised less than any other U.S. senator elected in 2012.

There could be more Republicans in the 2018 race, including Gov. Paul LePage, who has floated the possibility of a King challenge several times over the past year and could scuttle th Republican field.

But many other potential candidates could eye the governor’s seat, which is also up in 2018. That could clear Brakey some elbow room if he indeed gets in. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • The Question 1 recount will continue into this week. Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, said ballots from Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, Augusta, Scarborough, Old Town, Sanford and Standish had been counted as of Friday, equaling 16 percent of total ballots. The marijuana legalization question apparently won by 2,300 votes. Opponents want to count votes in more than 30 other municipalities. Newell Augur, an attorney for the opposition, said in a Sunday statement that they have picked up votes in “nearly every town that has been recounted.” But that doesn’t mean it’ll be enough and Dunlap’s office isn’t releasing piecemeal tallies.
  • Bath Iron Works will get an additional $11 million from the U.S. Navy to test and evaluate an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. King and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said the money will support more work on the Bath-built USS Rafael Peralta, which completed initial trials in October.
  • A former Obama administration official has taken over as chief of staff to Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon. The Democrat from Freeport said Friday that Jonathan Asen will replace Ana Hicks, who held the chief role under Gideon predecessor Mark Eves. Asen, of Portland, was a senior adviser to Eves after a five-year tenure in the Obama administration as chief of staff and senior advisor to the director of legislative affairs. — Michael Shepherd

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