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Republican 1st District challenger aims to introduce himself with first TV ad buy

Robert F. Bukaty | BDN
Robert F. Bukaty | BDN
Jon Courtney, Republican candidate for 1st District House, campaigns in Bath on July 3, 2012.
By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Jon Courtney, the Republican challenger hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in Maine’s 1st Congressional District this November, is taking to the airwaves Wednesday in an effort to build up his name recognition in a race that so far leans Pingree’s way.

Courtney’s campaign has bought $22,500 in airtime on a variety of cable television stations, according to public records available from Time Warner Cable. The ad spots are scheduled to air 1,500 times through Oct. 7.

“It’s time to obviously get up Jon’s name recognition, go up on TV with a little bio piece about him,” said Courtney’s campaign manager, Keith Herrick. “He’s got a number of accomplishments in the Maine Legislature as Senate majority leader. We want to get that message out.”

Herrick said the campaign hasn’t yet purchased time for the ad on broadcast stations, where advertising is more expensive.

Courtney, a Springvale resident, is serving his fourth term in the Maine Senate, and his 30-second spot focuses on a number of legislative initiatives from his past two years as the chamber’s Republican leader.

“We passed every major reform with bipartisan cooperation,” Courtney says in the ad. “Regulatory, welfare, health insurance and pension reform. We reduced debt, all while protecting our most vulnerable and keeping our promises to seniors.”

While legislators from both parties have voted in support of regulatory, pension and some welfare reform packages over the past two years, Democrats have been more resistant to Republican-favored health insurance reforms.

The votes in support of a health insurance overhaul bill that makes it easier for insurers to charge different rates based on patients’ ages and residences and opens up Maine’s insurance marketplace to some out-of-state plans were cast largely along party lines, with most Democrats opposing the measure.

In addition, while Democrats and Republicans last winter both supported a reduction to the state’s Medicaid program that tightened income eligibility requirements for low-income parents, Democrats opposed an effort in the spring to tighten those guidelines further. Those cuts are now the subject of a legal dispute between Maine and the federal government.

Courtney is the first of Maine’s Congressional candidates to start airing TV ads this general election season. He’s likely also the candidate with the most ground to cover before his race against Pingree becomes competitive.

The most recent poll in the race, conducted in late June by the Portland firm Critical Insights, showed Pingree with a 57-31 edge. His fundraising during the second quarter of 2012 amounted to about a tenth of what Pingree collected. He had $19,000 in campaign cash on hand as of June 30.

And unlike his fellow Republican Congressional challenger in Maine’s 2nd District, Kevin Raye, Courtney has struggled to attract the support of national Republican organizations. He also won the Republican nomination for the 1st Congressional District by a razor-thin margin over political newcomer Patrick Calder.

Courtney also faces steep historical challenges to overcome in the state’s southern district: Democrats have won eight consecutive elections in Maine’s 1st District and 12 of the last 13.

Herrick said recent fundraising efforts have been paying off — at least enough to allow the campaign to place advertising. “We’re out there every day just continuously reaching the voters,” he said.

Pingree’s campaign manager, Kate Simmons, said in an email that Pingree “is not taking this election for granted and will continue to work hard and keep fighting for Maine’s families.”

While Courtney is the first Congressional candidate in the state to begin airing ads, Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud has reserved more than $21,000 in ad time on cable television for the two weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election, according to public records available through Time Warner.

Even as advertising starts for Maine’s two U.S. House races, the volume pales in comparison to the amount of advertising dominating the campaign for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat. In that race, Republican Charlie Summers and independent Angus King have started airing ads of their own, but outside groups have so far spent the bulk of the advertising dollars.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a $400,000 campaign in July targeting King. And more recently, a group with Republican ties — called Maine Freedom — has spent $249,000 airing ads that encourage Democrats to choose Cynthia Dill over King.

On Monday, the National Journal reported that the National Republican Senatorial Committee plans a $500,000 ad buy for a spot set to begin airing Wednesday. Television station records show the committee will spend $129,375 on broadcast advertising in the Portland market during the first week of the two-week campaign.

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