AUGUSTA – It might be a genuine case of cross-party appeal. Or you might chalk it up to political gamesmanship.
For now, the Democratic Party’s one-seat hold on control in the Maine Senate has grown to two with the re-registration of Sen. Karl Turner of Cumberland from Republican to Democrat.
But the Democrats’ new 19-16 majority is only temporary.
Turner said Thursday he switched parties so that he would be able to vote in the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary on Tuesday and will return to the GOP fold afterward.
Turner, a lifelong Republican, said his temporary registration switch represented “no change of allegiance.” He declined to declare whom he would vote for in the Democratic contest, but there has been Republican talk that supporting Iraq war veteran Adam Cote for the Democratic congressional nomination might be a desirable option.
“I wouldn’t disagree with that,” Turner said.
“Some people have mentioned doing the same thing,” Turner added, but said he had no way of knowing how many Republicans might cross over.
Republicans have won the district only once since 1984.
Tony Payne, the executive director of the nonpartisan pro-business Alliance for Maine’s Future who sought the southern Maine Republican congressional nomination in 1992, said Thursday he, too, had registered as a Democrat and was voting for Cote.
“I have been surprised at the number of people who have done just the same thing, largely in support of Adam Cote,” Payne said.
Two GOP candidates – former Small Business Administration regional chief Charles Summers of Scarborough, who just returned from active duty with the Navy in Iraq, and businessman Dean Scontras of Eliot – are vying for the 1st District Republican nomination.
The pair jousted in a radio debate on WGAN on Thursday.
Scontras, a political newcomer, emphasized his outsider status and asserted, “I’m not a moderate.” He said it was time to “reboot” the GOP.
Summers, who has campaigned for Congress twice before, suggested Scontras was a Johnny-come-lately back to Maine and to Republican activism and said he was proud of his own service during four years in the state Senate and in his federal government post. “Politics is about solutions,” he said.
Cote, a Portland lawyer who formerly was a Republican, is one of six Democrats seeking their party’s nod. Earlier this week, Cote was lambasted as “a Republican in Democrat’s clothing” by one of his Democratic rivals, state Sen. Ethan Strimling of Portland.
Other Democrats in the race include Chellie Pingree of North Haven, a former state Senate majority leader who served four years as Washington-based chairwoman of Common Cause, York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence of South Berwick, former state Senate majority leader Michael Brennan of Portland and Dr. Steve Meister of Winthrop.
Payne said he was not ruling out eventually backing a Republican and regarded Cote, Scontras and Summers as the only candidates hoping to win the 1st District seat with the right approach to bread-and-butter issues.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Elizabeth Mitchell of Vassalboro chuckled about Turner’s probably short-lived political conversion.
“Welcome aboard. We have a big tent,” she said.
The deadline for changing enrollment from one party to another in order to vote in the new party in the June 10 primary was May 23. Anyone not belonging to a party may enroll in a party at any time, including on Election Day.
Spokeswoman Rebecca Pollard said Thursday the Maine Democratic Party organization did not plan to comment on the phenomenon of Republicans crossing over to vote in the Democratic primary. She said the Democratic Party would be supporting whoever wins nomination voting.
“We certainly want to see a Republican in the seat ultimately,” Maine Republican Party Executive Director Julie O’Brien said.
For the time being, she added, “certainly Adam Cote does have qualities that many Republicans admire. … He’s on the conservative end of the Democratic scale.”