AUGUSTA, Maine — The sometimes caustic campaign between Republicans Mark Holbrook and Ande Smith for the right to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree drew few voters but early results in the race suggest a close result.

As of midnight, with 134 of 155 southern Maine precincts reporting, the margin between the two candidates was thin. Holbrook had tallied 8,175 votes, or 52 percent of the total, versus 7,577 votes for Smith, according to results compiled by the Bangor Daily News.

Other news organizations were reporting that Smith held a lead of approximately 600 votes. Regardless, the race was too close to call headed into Wednesday.

The Republican primary campaign between Holbrook and Smith has been contentious. In recent days, the tension between the two has been palpable, including at the end of a WCSH debate last week when Holbrook refused to shake Smith’s hand on live television.

Holbrook has framed himself as the more conservative candidate in the race. A clinical counselor with a background as a police officer and fisherman, Holbrook has railed against tax and spending increases. He also has advocated for repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“The American economy has stagnated because the liberals have placed a target on the backs of the middle class,” he told the Republican State Convention in April. “Obama is bankrupting our nation. We are $19 trillion in debt.”

Smith, a patent lawyer who serves on the Maine Board of Education, is retired from the Navy. He has aimed much of his criticism in this campaign at Pingree, including advertisements critical of Pingree’s recent trip to Cuba. Smith has far outraised Holbrook in the campaign, $150,000 compared with $40,000, respectively.

Smith frames Pingree as “out of touch” and claims to be willing to compromise with Democrats in Washington.

“[Voters] are tired of the hyperpartisanism that has characterized the dealings there for the last six or eight years,” Smith told MPBN recently. “Chellie Pingree has been part of that. I believe that I can offer in this time a competing message of strong leadership, pragmatism and somebody who wants to get things done to make things better here in Maine.”

The Republican nominee faces a steep uphill climb in the general election against Pingree. Maine’s 1st Congressional District leans Democrat and Pingree has won each of her past four elections by double-digit percentages.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.