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Seeking Reelection, Rep. Pingree Adjusts Campaign Strategy Amid The Pandemic

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, is well known in Maine's 1st Congressional District where she was first elected in 2008. Since then she has been re-elected by significant margins.

But while polls show her way ahead of Republican challenger Jay Allen, Pingree is taking nothing for granted.

Since she was first elected to the school board on the island of North Haven, through her successful campaigns for the Maine state Senate and for Congress, Chellie Pingree has enjoyed meeting voters face-to-face. But the pandemic has changed almost everything, including how candidates like Pingree are able to connect with their constituents.

“So sorry we can’t gather together with the normal Democratic convention we used to have. But we have all learned to communicate in a variety of different ways.”

That was Pingree addressing the virtual Democratic state convention earlier this year. Most of her campaigning has been through virtual meetings with groups, with occasional small meetings with supporters. She says constituents have been clear that they want Congress to pass measures to protect them from the novel coronavirus and help the economy recover.

“Our number one focus has to be getting COVID-19 under control if we want to build back the economy.”

Pingree said that has been difficult because of the Trump Administration's efforts to downplay the potential health effects of the pandemic and failing to take other steps to combat the virus, including providing enough personal protective equipment to first responders.

Pingree says it also appears most Republicans do not want to negotiate for additional economic aid.

“I feel the Republicans have been uninterested in legislating and, of course, during the Trump Administration they have truly been dismantling much of what we considered the norms of government.”

Including, Pingree says, much of the public health infrastructure that is now needed to address the pandemic. After a dozen years in the House, Pingree has seniority on the powerful Appropriations Committee. She says this position has allowed her to fund programs to help Mainers with environmental protection, agriculture and defense. And she rejects Republican criticism that she is a liberal concerned only with left-leaning policies.

“I feel like I am exactly in the right spot for the 1st Congressional District, and I just don’t look at it as a conservative or a liberal issue, I look at it as how can I help Maine people on issues they care about.”

Pingree hasn’t raised much money for her campaign, just $315,000 as of the last filing deadline, but she can count on additional national money if she needs it. University of Maine Farmington political science Professor Jim Melcher says with her large margins of victories in past elections, the seat is just not a priority for Republicans.

“There really isn’t money flowing into the 1st District race,” Melcher says. “Democrats in Maine are going to think there are better places to put it.”

University of Southern Maine political science Professor Ron Schmidt agrees that the GOP seems to have given up on winning the seat.

“I feel that, for a long time, the GOP has sort of shrugged their shoulders over the 1st District,” Schmidt says. “But, the GOP as a whole feels sort of demoralized in regards to the first district.”

But Pingree stresses that she is not taking her re-election for granted and will be ramping up her campaign soon. She plans to spend money on television ads and has agreed to participate in three broadcast debates with her Republican challenger.

Originally published 4:12 p.m. September 19, 2020

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.