While millions of dollars, and lots of attention are being spent on the state’s Second Congressional District race, the contest for Maine’s other house seat has barely made any noise at all. That’s because political observers just don’t see the race as being in play.
“Anything on your mind? I am running for re-election,” says incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “I am quite interested in what you are thinking about.”
Campaigning at Becky’s Diner on the Portland waterfront, Pingree is reluctant to interrupt customers as they eat breakfast and drink their morning coffee. But she does listen as they bring up issues they are concerned about such as the re-development of the former Naval Air Station in Brunswick.
“We worked on some of the early legislation on that, and it is one of the biggest success stories of a rapid turnover of a base, which in my opinion shouldn’t have closed,” she says. “Right, right but once it did, people got in their right away.”
Pingree says it took bipartisan cooperation to put together the redevelopment plan for the base and that while she is a liberal and has pushed a progressive agenda in Congress, she has worked with republicans on several issues. With a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee she has influenced funding for a wide array of programs, such as an agricultural initiative to help farmer’s sell directly to consumers. And, Pingree says, there are a lot of other issues that demand attention.
“Global warming, the cost of education, international terrorism, I mean there is a lot on our plate,” she says. “And each one of use that goes to Congress trying decide what is the right thing to do and represent the people that elected us.”
Her republican opponent, psychologist Mark Holbrook, won a narrow primary election over a more mainstream republican BY campaigning among party activists and spending a lot of time meeting one on one with voters.
Holbrook is a conservative and proud of it. When speaking with voters he talks about his fiscal conservatism, ABOUT the need to crack down on immigration and he champions the free market system as the best way to create jobs. He says Pingree is too partisan and liberal for the district.
“If they are interested in raising taxes on the middle class and the elderly, they will vote for Pingree,” Holbrook says. “I am none of those things.”
Holbrook supports Donald Trump’s candidacy and has appeared with him at campaign events in Maine. He says Pingree supports Hillary Clinton, who’s election, he believes, would be a disaster.
“The differences couldn’t be more stark. If they want to do something that is going to help themselves personally and help the state move forward, they are going to vote for me,” Holbrook says. “If they want the status quo, if they want a rubber stamp, for god forbid Hilary Clinton getting in office, they are going to vote for Pingree.”
But Pingree is leading comfortably in the public polls and has yet to spend very much of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in her campaign war chest. Holbrook has raised a fraction of the amount and is not getting the support of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee that incumbent Bruce Poliquin is in the Second district. Political analysts say Holbrook has little chance of winning the race. Tony Corrado is a government professor at Colby College.
“You have a very well established incumbent who is well known is well funded, really doesn’t have any types of major policy votes or policy positions that are out of line with her constituency,” Corrodo says.
And University of Maine Political Science professor Mark Brewer says the odds are stacked against any republican in the first district.
“Demographics make it just very difficult for a Republican to win that district,” says Brewer. “It’s a highly democratic district, it gets more democratic each cycle.”
But Holbrook is undeterred by the odds. He says his campaign has hundreds of volunteers working to support his candidacy and that he has a strategy that can win. Pingree says she takes nothing for granted and will be campaigning hard across the district up to election day.