Political parties across the region are scrambling to find candidates who will commit to running for office this year.

The deadline for Democratic, Republican and Green Party candidates to file nomination papers in order to get on the June primary ballot is March 15. Candidates not enrolled in a party have until June 1 to file papers to get on the November general election ballot.

I say scramble because most party regulars realize that incumbents hold a significant advantage in an election. The name recognition alone is worth its weight in political gold.

The public often grumbles about elected officials whether it be those in Augusta or those in Washington, D.C. But at the same time, incumbents are overwhelmingly re-elected to office regardless of political party.

Let’s look at the most recent legislative elections in 2008. Of the seven incumbents who were running for re-election in the Midcoast (which I define as Lincolnville to Waldoboro), all but one won another term. The one exception was Republican Rep. Bob Walker of Lincolnville.

But Walker’s loss was due, in part, to a Halloween-themed flier mailed out on his behalf shortly before the election that accused his Democratic challenger Andrew O’Brien of using dirty tricks and having scary values. Walker put up a weak argument that the flier was intended to be funny and that his youthful challenger had not perpetrated any dirty tricks.

As it turned out, the flier was a treat for O’Brien and voters gave a trick to Walker who is now a former legislator.

But other than Walker, local legislative incumbents had a cake walk, winning by comfortable margins.

Two years before that (2006), the same pattern held true. Of the eight incumbent legislators running for re-election, all but one was re-elected. That time, the victim was Republican Rep. Stephen Bowen of Rockport who lost to Democrat David Miramant.

In that race, there was a controversy over a flier mailed by Democrats before the election that targeted Bowen.

In 2004, five local legislative incumbents ran for re-election. Five local legislative incumbents won.

And in 2002, only one incumbent lost, Democratic Rep. James Skoglund, who was upset by then little known Thomaston resident Christopher Rector.

With this history, candidates are often reluctant to challenge incumbents. Often, the party will find someone willing to carry the banner but it can take some arm twisting and last minute filings.

With this year’s filing deadline two weeks away, a similar pattern is emerging.

No Democrat or Green Party member has come forward to challenge Rector, who now is a state senator and has been in the Legislature for eight consecutive years. Two years ago, Rector managed to win over his own party and many independents. There were many homes throughout the county in the fall of 2008 that had Democratic political signs supporting candidates such as Chellie Pingree but there were also places that sprouted Rector signs.

Democratic Rep. Edward Mazurek has thus far attracted no competition. Mazurek is one of Rockland’s most popular politicians and won his last race by a two-to-one margin.

Republican Rep. Wes Richardson of Warren is thus far unchallenged for a fourth consecutive term in the House.

First term legislators often face the most competition. Republican Helen Shaw of Rockport will challenge Democratic Rep. Joan Welsh again this year. And Wendy Pelletier of Hope will challenge Rep. O’Brien from Lincolnville.

Maybe this year, the Republicans will not send out Halloween fliers against O’Brien.

Some political observers claim this year will be different because of the Great Recession that is entering its third year. But this may not play much of a role either.

Look back to 1992, the last time the region was mired in a recession during an election year. The power of incumbency worked then as well. No local legislative incumbents lost that year; the four incumbents who ran won — although some of the races were closer than usual.

But in a democratic (lowercase) society, contested races are a must for public policy matters to be debated thoroughly. And if candidates work hard enough, knock on enough doors, and have the right temperament, they can pull off an upset.