PORTLAND, Maine — A challenge motivated by ranked-choice voting was little match for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District on Tuesday, as the Democrat claimed victory while appearing to coast to a sixth term over two rightward challengers.
It was unlikely that Pingree, 63, of North Haven would be knocked off since Republican counselor Mark Holbrook declared for a rematch after losing to the incumbent in 2016. But independent state Rep. Marty Grohman — a former Democrat — shook up the race when he joined it in April, but his challenge failed to gain wide support.
Decision Desk HQ and the Bangor Daily News called the race for Pingree at just after 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. With roughly 82 percent of precincts reporting to the Bangor Daily News just after 1 p.m. Wednesday, Pingree had 60 percent of votes to Holbrook’s 32 percent and Grohman’s 9 percent, a total that would give the Democrat a win in the first round of voting.
She claimed victory at an election night party in Portland after Grohman conceded earlier in the evening. In her victory speech, Pingree said she would serve as a check on President Donald Trump and looked forward to welcoming enough new Democrats to the House to seize a majority.
Grohman’s case to beat Pingree was centered on ranked-choice voting, which was passed by Maine voters in 2016. He attempted to overtake Holbrook among Republican voters to eliminate him in the first round of voting.
Pingree is the most liberal member of Maine’s congressional delegation. Her 2018 campaign was largely about reining in Trump, who lost her district by 15 percentage points to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Pingree and dozens of other Democrats skipped Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
“I hear so many people who are upset with the president,” Pingree told the BDN on Tuesday night. “It’s not just Democrats, it’s independents and a lot of Republicans who say, ‘This isn’t my Republican Party.’ They’re angry with how he’s viewed around the world, how he talks on Twitter, his policies on health care and education and the environment. I feel like that’s the No. 1 thing: People would like to see a check on the president.”
She has won the seat by less than 10 points only once — for her first term in 2008. Since then, she has mostly faced weak candidates, but her 2018 election was made more interesting because of ranked-choice voting.
Grohman, who aligned with conservatives on fiscal issues and with Democrats on most everything else, picked up endorsements from several Republican officeholders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Paul LePage said he “should be in Congress.”
He was attempting to weaken the standing of Holbrook, a Trump supporter who ran a low-budget campaign, but Grohman failed to overtake the outspoken Republican. After LePage’s kind words for Grohman, Holbrook said he ran into people who wondered if the governor “had a stroke” and argued that little separated Pingree and Grohman politically.
Addressing supporters in Portland after declaring victory, Pingree said her priorities moving forward include expanding health care access, protecting safety net programs such as social security and Medicare, and “take on climate change.”
“We can fix these problems, I really do believe we can,” she told cheering supporters. “We have to face them head on. We have to stay true to our values. We have to reach across the aisle — now that [Democrats are] in the majority, we will extend a hand to the Republicans.”
BDN editor Seth Koenig contributed to this report.