It was an early 1996 evening in Kazakhstan, when a friend in then-Gov. Angus King’s office forwarded me a wire report that Bill Cohen was retiring from the Senate, opening his seat for challengers on both sides. I had a drink or two and was in good spirits, so I fired off a note to Susan Collins urging her to run. I argued, Why can’t Maine be like California, the first state to have two female senators simultaneously, but for Republicans?

Nearly 25 years later, Maine’s political landscape has changed, but regardless of partisanship, women have done better here by the numbers. We currently have a female governor, half of the congressional delegation is made of women (there was a time when it was 3/4 of it), and from Eliot to Caribou, women make decisions impacting thousands in local and state offices. In Maine, the role of women in politics is broadening.

Nationally, we saw this in the 2018 midterms, which not only produced “the Squad” of Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Omar and Tlaib, but also centrist women like Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin or Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger as prominent riders on a blue wave that returned the House speakership to Nancy Pelosi.

At the same time, Maine saw a new generation of women in politics with Democrats like Chloe Maxmin from Nobleboro or Genevieve McDonald from Stonington — both young women — winning House seats.

But where does this leave Republican women? If Sara Gideon is successful in ousting Collins in November, this field would look bleaker than any time in my memory. For the sake of balance alone, this led me to wonder if there are any bright spots on the horizon.

Former LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett lost her GOP nomination in the primary challenge for the Second District congressional seat, but there are younger Republican women running for the first time across Maine, who could establish a team that will grow over time.

In Auburn, Laurel Libby is one such candidate. So is Waldo County’s Katrina Smith, whose bright red signs light Route 3 from Augusta to Belfast.

A realtor, mother and recent activist, Smith told me she's running because she’s worried Augusta has left at least half the state behind. A common-sense conservative, she doesn’t see many of her neighbors views represented in state government and says while her opponent, incumbent Stanley Zeigler, is passionate about the environment, so are her supporters who worked the land around Palermo, Searsmont and Morrill for generations, but are also suffering from few economic opportunities.

Her path to politics has been serendipitous. Alongside her husband, she raised a couple kids into young adults and prevailed over a debilitating disease. This is the first time in her life she had the time and energy to focus on policy and governance, leading her on an active, grassroots campaign.

An earlier Mrs. Smith also came to politics by accident. Skowhegan’s Margaret Chase Smith went to work in Washington in 1936 for then newly-elected congressman Clyde, who grew ill and asked her to run for his seat before dying. She went on to become the first woman nominated by Republicans for president.

Auburn’s Olympia Snowe has a similar start, following her first husband’s death in a tragic accident. She went from being a staffer to a senator with a brief break, serving in state government. The message at the time seemed say that a woman would either step into the breach or devote herself to public service from day one. Could this model be changing?

Whatever happens at the top of the ticket in less than 40 days, there will be a wave of change in at least one of the two parties, eventually both. Maine’s women pioneers in politics were largely Republican, but in the last two decades, Democrats took a visible lead. Just as Maxmin and McDonald were bellwethers of 2018, I’ll be watching with interest to see how this develops at the state level this fall. As goes Maine…