North Haven Democrat Chellie Pingree swept to a commanding victory over her Republican opponent, Charles Summers of Scarborough, in the race to represent Maine’s 1st District in Congress.
With 367 of 612 precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, Pingree was polling 125,529 votes to Summers’ 98,299 votes. The results gave Pingree 56 percent of the vote, while Summers polled 44 percent.
Pingree, who began her political career with a seat on the Penobscot Bay island’s planning board three decades ago, thanked her supporters and spoke with joy of their decision to send her to Washington. She also commended Summers for a well-fought campaign.
“It’s looking good. I’m very excited to be part of what will be a tremendous change in our country. It’s been a long campaign, I’m proud of the voters and I’m proud to be part of that change,” Pingree said from her Portland election night victory party at Empire Dine and Dance.
Summers’ campaign spokeswoman Tracy Patterson said he was holding off congratulating Pingree because he wanted to see the results from the many communities whose votes were still uncounted. There were problems with the voting machines in his hometown of Scarborough and Summers wanted to see those results before conceding the election, she said.
“I don’t think you will be hearing from us until the morning,” Patterson said.
Pingree was ringing up pluralities in each of the district’s five counties and part of another. The district encompasses Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Cumberland and York counties and parts of Kennebec County.
Pingree was leading Summers by a vote of 2,990 to 1,569 in Knox County, by 2,590 to 2,394 in Sagadahoc County, by 4,717 to 4,688 in Lincoln County, by 23,356 to 20,597 in York County, by 69,438 to 50,534 in Cumberland County and by 8,057 by 7,392 in parts of Kennebec County.
Pingree and Summers were vying to capture the seat held for the past 12 years by Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine. Allen relinquished his seat to run against incumbent Susan Collins, R-Maine, for the U.S. Senate.
Pingree, 53, ran a number of successful small businesses on the island before being elected from Knox County to the state Senate, where she served for eight years. She is a former Maine Senate majority leader, mounted an unsuccessful race against Collins in 2002 and most recently served as president of Common Cause in Washington, D.C.
Summers, 47, also served in the state Senate, was an aide to Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, ran unsuccessfully against Allen in 2004 and was regional head of the Small Business Administration until being called to duty in Iraq last year, where he served as a lieutenant commander with the U.S. Navy. He returned from Iraq in May.
The 1st District seat has been held by a Democrat for most of the past two decades. Both Pingree and Summers have strong name recognition in the district but polling throughout the race has always indicated that Pingree held a comfortable lead — in the 10-point range.
Along with the polling results, Pingree also surpassed Summers in the fundraising arena. As of the Federal Election Commission’s mid-October reporting deadline, Pingree had raised $2,038,886 to Summers’ $576,253, better than 3-to-1.
Pingree spent more than $1.9 million on the campaign and her radio and television advertising in southern Maine was much more widespread than that of Summers. Summers had spent $483,571 on the campaign as of last month.
In Camden, Pingree voter Delisa Morang said she was a longtime supporter and agreed with her positions on the issues.
“As a local person coming off an island, I’ve known of her for a long time,” Morang said while leaving the polls Tuesday. “I like her and I like what she has to say.”
Another Pingree voter, Hugh McKellar of Camden, said, “I’ve long admired the work she did with Common Cause and I just think she could bring some of that common sense to Washington.”
In Rockland, former mayor and one-time congressional aide Richard Warner said he voted for Summers because he believed he held to the low tax, strong defense and fiscal policies that the Republican Party was known for. Warner added, however, that he was dismayed by the way his party has governed for the past eight years.
“I think Republicans have to retreat back to the wilderness and learn who they are,” Warner said. “I am a Republican and my party left me. That’s a fact.”
Pingree and Summers fought a disciplined campaign that focused on the issues. Although they differ strongly on most of the issues confronting the country, the two were always cordial during their debates and joint appearances and made no attempt to paint a negative picture of the other.
Summers argued that the Bush tax cuts should remain in place, that American forces should remain in Iraq and that energy exploration and independence were critical to the country’s economic and national security.
Pingree, on the other hand, said she would end the tax cuts and also eliminate tax breaks given major corporations. She said she would vote immediately to withdraw the troops from Iraq, would push for universal health care and favored developing alternative energy sources to make the country energy-independent instead of drilling for oil in the Gulf of Maine.