PORTLAND, Maine — Maine Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney found himself in a neck-and-neck race with Portland Republican City Committee Chairman Patrick Calder to determine who will challenge Democratic incumbent Chellie Pingree for Maine’s 1st District U.S. House seat in the fall.

Late numbers Tuesday from Sanford and Lyman gave Courtney a slight lead in the race after Calder held an advantage of several hundred votes between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. And numbers reported Wednesday morning continued to build Courtney’s minuscule lead.

As results from different municipalities trickled in late Tuesday, the candidates traded moments in the lead and spent a significant portion of the night virtually tied.

But by 9 a.m. Wednesday, Courtney had 14,264 votes to Calder’s 14,103 — a difference of just 101 votes and just one-third of a percent. Still to report were Arrowsic, Chelsea, and Limerick. Just 4,085 registered voters live in those three towns combined. With voter turnout of about 10 percent, those 400 or so votes could cement Courtney’s lead or swing the election back in Calder’s favor.

“We’ve gone back and forth all night,” Calder said Tuesday evening. “However it ends up, it’ll be tight. I think it speaks to the strength of our message here that it’s this tight. I don’t think anybody expected it to be this tight. And if Jon does ultimately win, he’ll obviously have my full support.”

Calder, a relative political unknown before entering the race, controlled the vote in the earliest Cumberland County towns to report tallies, winning 6,957 votes there to Courtney’s 4,142. Calder’s hometown of Portland gave him a bump in the form of 71 percent of the vote in the city, 857 compared to 354 for Courtney.

Courtney held a dominant edge in his home York County, however, claiming a 4,708 to 1,939 advantage in the votes reported there.

Calder was the first to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the 1st District, in late January, and quickly built a reputation as being articulate and well-versed in political issues.

Courtney, who officially launched his campaign in early May, held an advantage in name recognition garnered through nearly 10 years in the state Legislature.

Courtney said he expects to monitor results into the morning.

“I think there’s a lot still out there,” he told the BDN. “We’re upside down in Cumberland County, of course, but there’s still some York County towns that haven’t reported yet.”

At a time when bipartisan rancor has been in the spotlight — thanks in part to longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to leave politics over it — Courtney highlighted during the campaign his legislative history working across the aisle with Democrats on issues such as historic preservation and alternative energy.

But Courtney maintained his party bona fides as well, speaking out on behalf of Republican proposals to set aside future state budget surpluses to reduce income taxes, for instance.

Calder hosted a primary night party at his Portland home Tuesday night, where supporters gathered after the polls closed.

Courtney set up his election night celebration at Pat’s Pizza on Market Street in Portland, owned by fellow Republican Chris Tyll, a candidate for the District 11 seat in the Maine Senate. Tyll, a former Navy SEAL from North Yarmouth, accompanied Courtney in Deering Oaks Park during his campaign launch on May 3 as well.


Seth Koenig

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