Sept. 28: Could Ranked-Choice Voting Dethrone Chellie Pingree?

Sep 28, 2018

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, has held her seat and defended it convincingly for a decade.

Maine Public state house bureau chief Steve Mistler, political correspondent Mal Leary and deputy news director Susan Sharon discuss Pingree’s challengers and their campaigns in this week’s edition of Maine’s Political Pulse.

Sharon: The Cook Political Report, which is known for forecasting congressional races, has put the race for Maine’s 1st Congressional District solidly in the column for Chellie Pingree, who is up against two other candidates, including a Republican she beat two years ago. Who are her competitors and what stands out about them?

Leary: We’ve got Mark Holbrook, who is the Republican nominee. He was the nominee last time, winning a very close primary race over a moderate Republican. This guy is very, very conservative. He’s a Trumper all along. He spends a lot of time on the campaign trail talking about how he will go down and vote for everything Trump wants. The third candidate in the race is an independent, Marty Grohman, who is a former Democratic state representative from Biddeford and a businessman. He is more of a conservative Democrat, and he’s trying to garner space in all of this that will attract both Republicans who can’t support Holbrook but also some disenchanted Democrats.

This congressional contest is one of three in Maine where ranked-choice voting comes into play this year. This is very unusual, Maine’s at the forefront of this. Remind us how it works and how it might affect this election.

Mistler: Ranked-choice voting is different from the voting that we traditionally have. Voters, when they go to the polls, they get to rank each candidate on the ballot in order of preference. And then once those votes are tabulated, if somebody reaches 50 percent or more, that person wins on the first tally. If they don’t, then we go to the ranking system. What’s important about that ranking system in this particular race is you have one candidate, Grohman, who is essentially staking his electoral hopes on getting to that second ballot and hoping that he can drag her down just enough below 50 percent where he could then get a bunch of second place votes and potentially topple Pingree.

What signs do you see that this is working or not?

Mistler: The one thing he’s doing that we’ve seen a lot of probably the most is that he’s trying to garner a lot of endorsements from Republicans and other luminaries in the party to show that he has their support. He’s done this to such effect that the Maine Republican Party has come out with a statement basically reassuring everybody, “No no no, Holbrook is our nominee. He’s our guy.” But Grohman is coming out and saying, “No, maybe not. These people are with me as well.” More recently he’s tried to draw some moderate Democrats to his side with some really interesting ads.

Leary: He’s got some ads on Facebook that have this photo of Pingree, and on it it says “Hillary Clinton’s superdelegate,” and next to it is his picture, which says, “Not a Hillary Clinton superdelegate.” We were kind of baffled as to what group he’s trying to aim at here, is he trying to get to the Bernie-type supporters that are real progressives because of her support of Hillary Clinton? In a campaign that has no television ads and no radio ads, in these various ads we’re trying to divine what they’re trying to do.

Mistler: This is all, so far, a digital campaign. He has this one ad which is called “Fix Not Fight,” sort of the mantra of his candidacy, which is, “The Democrats, they stink and all they want to do is fight. And Republicans, they stink and all they want to do is fight, and really what people want is this little space in the middle to get something done.” What he seems to be trying to do is to exploit what had been a rift in the Democratic Party between what is often called the establishment Democrat, who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, which is far more progressive and has some who identify as Socialist Democrats.

Grohman was a Democrat himself until just a couple of years ago. He would have to caucus with one party or the other if he got elected.

Leary: That’s not what he says, which is that he will go with which party on which bill he really likes and wants to support. Which shows naiveté about how Congress works, particularly the House of Representatives. It’s far easier for Angus King to pull that off in the U.S. Senate than it is for someone in the House of Representatives.

We have not talked about what might be Pingree’s weaknesses going into this race this year. What do you think those are?

Mistler: The common complaint you hear about Pingree is that she’s too liberal. She’s a reliable voice that lines up behind the minority leader in the House at the moment, Nancy Pelosi. She’s reliably in that camp, so there may be some disenchanted Democrats that don’t really like that. Maybe they want her to more business minded or something.