Despite last-minute polls that indicated she was in a dead heat with her Republican challenger, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree has handily hung onto her U.S. House seat representing Maine’s 1st District.
With unofficial early returns showing the congresswoman with 58.6 percent of the vote and Republican Dean Scontras of Eliot with 41.4 percent, he conceded the race a little after 10:30 p.m. and called Pingree to say that the night “is hers.”
Pingree said in a telephone interview from Portland’s Porthole that she is glad to have the chance to return to work for Maine.
“I feel just very honored to have the voters give me this opportunity to represent them again,” she said. “It’s a tough time for Maine people — and especially given the national mood out there, I feel very, very privileged.”
Scontras, an alternative energy entrepreneur, said in a WLBZ-TV interview that he will be returning to business and stepping away from politics.
“Twice is enough,” he said, referring to his 2008 bid to be the Republican candidate for the same seat. “I think this was a good run, a good opportunity. … I will admit, it’s tough. But life goes on tomorrow.”
He said that the financial imbalance between Pingree’s campaign and his posed difficulties.
According to the website www.opensecrets.org, Pingree had raised $1.02 million as of Oct. 13, while Scontras had raised $365,000.
“This was different for me because of the money,” he said.
Pingree faced criticism in the campaign over flights she took on her fiance’s corporate jet after having decried such congressional perks in years past.
She quelled the furor by producing a letter from the House Ethics Committee saying the flights were acceptable since the jet was owned by her fiance, S. Donald Sussman. But Republicans continued to hammer away at her, accusing her of being a hypocrite and being out of touch.
Polls in the final days of the campaign showing Pingree’s numbers dropping and Scontras’ jumping seemed to indicate that the Republican efforts were working.
One constituent from Pingree’s home turf said Tuesday that he found the choice to be difficult.
“That was a tough one … the rich boyfriend thing bothered me,” said Glenn Wooster of Rockland, an independent voter who said that he did decide on Pingree in the end.
Colby College political scientist Sandy Maisel said late Tuesday night that the polling numbers might more correctly indicate that the surveys were “really inaccurate.”
“A lot of the press gave a lot of credibility to the polls,” he said. “If there’s a loser in the race this time, it seems to me it’s the pollsters.”
Maisel also said that the media should be faulted for seizing on poll after poll indiscriminately.
“I think it’s time for people reporting on this to say, ‘You know, jeez, we reported any numbers we could get our hands on,’” he said.
Regardless of numbers, Pingree said that the campaign was very tough.
“I think it was important that in spite of all the nasty stuff that went on, we stuck to the high road,” she said.
Among her priorities when she returns to Washington, D.C., Pingree said, will be keeping redevelopment at the Brunswick Naval Air Station going and doing her best to work across the aisle.
“I think it’s going to be a challenging time,” she said.
Pingree’s message apparently has resonated with voters such as Sylvia Pierport of Rockland.
“I like her,” she said after casting her vote.