AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers kicked off his campaign for U.S. Senate on Tuesday by emphasizing his military and small-business background and by borrowing words from the Republican standard-bearer Ronald Reagan.
When he ran for president in 1980, Reagan bemoaned the country’s lack of leadership and said “I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself.”
Summers said he was 20 years old when Reagan delivered those words, but they stuck with him.
“Now 32 years later, America finds herself in an eerily similar set of circumstances,” Summers said from the State House welcome center with a group of more than a dozen state lawmakers standing beside him.
The Scarborough resident and two-time U.S. House candidate is one of six Republicans seeking the nomination to fill Olympia Snowe’s Senate seat this fall.
The others are William Schneider, Maine’s attorney general; Bruce Poliquin, the state treasurer and a 2010 gubernatorial candidate; Rick Bennett, former Maine Senate President; Debra Plowman, assistant Senate majority leader; and Scott D’Amboise, a former U.S. House candidate.
Four candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination: former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, state Sen. Cynthia Dill, state Rep. Jon Hinck and Portland home builder Benjamin Pollard.
Independent candidate Angus King, a former two-term governor, also is in the race.
Summers touched on a number of familiar GOP talking points on Tuesday: opposition to Obamacare, the growing national debt, the need to explore for domestic oil and the need to reduce taxes.
Asked how he planned to separate himself from the other Republican candidates, Summers said he believes his personal and professional experience puts him ahead of the others.
Before he became secretary of state, Summers was the regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration. Prior to that, he served as state director for Snowe for more than a decade. He also is a U.S. Navy veteran who has tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to his credit and served in the Maine Senate in the 1990s.
Among those who supported Summers on Tuesday was Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, who called him the best candidate to “hit the ground running.” Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, said Snowe’s legacy would be difficult for anyone to live up to — but said Summers is the one to do it.
Despite his impressive resume, Summers has never won a statewide election. He ran for Maine’s 1st Congressional District seat in 2004 and lost to the Democratic incumbent Tom Allen. In 2008, Summers lost to Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who has since been re-elected and will seek a third term this year.
Still, Summers said he’s focused on winning the seat held by his former boss and political mentor. If elected, he even plans to seek a seat on the Senate Armed Service Committee, on which Snowe has served.
Snowe said her main reason for stepping aside was because Washington, D.C., is broken and increasingly incapable of compromise. Summers agreed with the first part but not the second.
“I think you have that responsibility [to compromise],” he said. “You have a responsibility to develop relationships. I think politics is a lot like small business: It’s all about relationships.”
Summers also sidestepped any perception of conflict about running for the Senate while serving as the state’s top elections official. Although nothing in state law requires him to step aside, he said he has taken steps already to turn over all election-related duties to his deputy, Julie Flynn.