PORTLAND, Maine — Republican Jon Courtney embraced his underdog status Thursday while launching his campaign for Congress, telling supporters he can relate to the financial struggles of Mainers better than Democratic 1st District incumbent Chellie Pingree.

Courtney’s campaign kickoff tour Thursday featured stops in Sanford, Biddeford, Portland, Wiscasset and Waterville.

During a speech in Portland’s Deering Oaks Park on Thursday morning, the Maine Senate majority leader from Springvale said Pingree’s marriage to Donald Sussman, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Portland Press Herald majority owner, gives her an early advantage. But Courtney said that won’t dissuade him from running an aggressive grass-roots campaign in which he said he plans to visit every community in the congressional district.

“We can’t be discouraged by running against a billionaire,” Courtney said before a small crowd of mostly reporters and campaign supporters. “We can’t be discouraged by running against an unfriendly newspaper owner.”

Sussman, who purchased a majority stake in Press Herald parent company MaineToday Media in a $3.3 million deal announced earlier this year, has repeatedly stated he will play no role in the newspaper’s editorial decisions or stances.

Courtney first faces a Republican primary contest in which Portland mariner Patrick Calder also is running to be the party’s 1st District nominee.

Chris Tyll of North Yarmouth, former Navy SEAL and current owner of the Pat’s Pizza in the Old Port, introduced Courtney in Portland on Thursday. Tyll is a candidate for the District 11 seat in the Maine Senate.

“It takes courage to go against a formidable opponent and the sitting congresswoman is a formidable opponent,” Tyll told the Bangor Daily News Thursday morning. “That perspective of being removed from the ‘ivory tower’ is what Washington needs.”

Courtney blasted President Barack Obama’s health care reform act as driving up federal spending at a time when the deficit has climbed past $15 trillion. He also touted the efforts of Maine Republicans to whittle down government spending and regulations after they took control of the Blaine House and Legislature two years ago.

Courtney continued returning to the theme that he would be the “dark horse” against a wealthy Democrat and that his blue-collar roots make him the candidate most in touch with Mainers’ values.

“I’m running for Congress because I know the challenges of getting by,” he added. “I know the challenges of running a small business, I know the challenges of paying for health care, I know the challenges of filling my gas tank, I know the challenges of keeping my house warm in the winter.”

Pingree’s office declined to respond to Courtney’s comments Thursday.


Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.