November 21, 2017
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Chipman, Chenette appear to score key wins in Democratic primaries

By Michael Shepherd, BDN Staff
Updated:

PORTLAND, Maine — After a nasty campaign against a fellow legislator with a historically big campaign bankroll, state Rep. Ben Chipman looked poised for victory in the Democratic primary for Maine Senate District 27 in the state’s largest city on Tuesday.

He would be the favorite to win Maine’s most Democratic district in November, in a race that saw Portland’s party establishment fracture between Chipman, who only joined the party last year, and Rep. Diane Russell, a fourth-term lawmaker and progressive favorite who was tracking toward a shocking third-place finish.

The race was marked by a fundraising haul for Russell that was among the highest ever in a Maine primary and dueling ethics complaints against both legislators.

With eight of nine precincts reporting, Chipman won 53 percent of votes to Russell’s 23 percent in the Portland race, with Dr. Charles Radis in second place at 24 percent. This included the polling place at the city’s East End Community School, in Russell’s home district.

The winner is the favorite in November’s general election race against Republican Mark Lockman and the Green Independent Party’s Seth Baker.

In the five other Democratic primaries for the Maine Senate:

— Rep. Mark Dion was leading with 51 percent of votes to Portland City Councilor Jill Duson’s 42 percent and former Rep. Ann Peoples of Westbrook with 6 percent in the race for the open seat in District 28, in western Portland and part of Westbrook. Duson conceded at about 9:45 p.m., making Dion the favorite to beat Republican Karen Usher of Westbrook in the second-most Democratic district in Maine.

— Rep. Justin Chenette beat Rep. Barry Hobbins for the nomination to the seat to be vacated by Sen. Linda Valentino in District 31, which stretches from Saco to Hollis and part of Buxton, according to the Journal Tribune. It’s a stunning win for the 25-year-old Chenette over Hobbins, an Augusta institution in his 26th year of legislative service, and he will be favored over Republican William Gombar of Old Orchard Beach.

— Former U.S. Senate nominee Shenna Bellows of Manchester declared victory over Gardiner City Councilor Terry Berry in Senate District 14 in southern Kennebec County, with 82 percent of votes. Sen. Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner, is leaving the seat, which hasn’t been won by a Democrat since 2004. However, the district leans slightly Democratic and looks like a swing seat this year. On the Republican side, retired Navy Adm. Bryan Cutchen of West Gardiner was leading Gardiner City Councilor Maureen Blanchard with three precincts in.

— Sen. Susan Deschambault of Biddeford will beat former Mayor Joanne Twomey with 85 percent of votes in Senate District 32 in York County from Kennebunkport to Lyman, with three of six precincts in. Deschambault will face Republican Steve Martin of Biddeford. She beat him by 16 points in a March special election and should beat him again.

— It doesn’t look like Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, will get a rematch of his 2014 race with Democrat Ted Koffman of Bar Harbor. Surry nurse Moira O’Neill was leading him with 65 percent of votes with 16 of 31 precincts in. But knocking off Langley in his bid for a fourth term will be tough.

The race between Chipman and Russell overshadowed the others on Tuesday. On policy, the two aren’t much different. They backed Democratic presidential insurgent Bernie Sanders and are as progressive as the city they represent.

But the campaign illuminated divides. Mailers from Russell’s campaign hit Chipman for joining the party in September 2015 and featured a photo of him reviewing a campaign mailer from his seat in the House of Representatives. Chipman allies slammed Russell in Bangor Daily News blogs.

Russell’s massive fundraising edge also became campaign fodder. As of late May, she raised $89,000 behind well over 1,000 contributions, mostly from small donors across the country amassed through a huge email list that Russell has nurtured as a champion for buzzy quests, including marijuana legalization and abolishing Democratic Party “superdelegates.”

It left Chipman, who ran under Maine’s taxpayer-funded election system, with less than $13,000 to run his campaign as of last month. Radis raised less than $14,000 privately.

Campaign finance was a major issue in the race, with ethics complaints filed against both candidates. They were addressed by the Maine Ethics Commission on Tuesday in Augusta as Chipman and Russell wrangled for last-minute votes.

No final action was taken on Tuesday, but Paul Lavin, the commission’s assistant director, said the panel voted that sufficient grounds exist to investigate whether Russell violated Maine election law and to reopen a probe into another complaint on Chipman.

The complaint against Russell alleged that her use of the email list constitutes an unreported contribution from her political action committee to her campaign. Russell’s lawyer said it was the candidate’s personal property and denied wrongdoing.

Russell supporter Steven Biel of Portland filed the complaint against Chipman last month, questioning whether Chipman violated a loophole in Maine election law that allows campaign volunteers to contribute unreported money for “invitations, food and beverages.”

But Chipman said the arrangement was legal and modeled after other campaigns, saying it was a maneuver from Russell’s camp to distract from her own ethics issues, including past fines to her political action committee.

At the East End Community School on Tuesday, A. Jan Berlin, who lives on the Eastern Promenade, said he was open-minded at the beginning of the campaign, but he supported Chipman because he was “really disappointed in the PAC revelation stuff.”

“That was a game-changer,” he said.

 


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