A former kick returner for the University of Maine football team has a lot of yardage to make up in his quest to unseat Rep. Chellie Pingree in Maine’s 1st Congressional District.
The Maine Poll shows Pingree with a commanding 24-point lead over Republican challenger Dean Scontras in the race for the U.S. House seat Pingree won two years ago.
The telephone poll took place Monday evening among registered voters who had voted in the 2008 presidential election and said they were likely to vote in the upcoming election Nov. 2.
Of the 316 respondents who live in the district that includes the counties of Cumberland, York, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and most of Kennebec, 53 percent said they would vote for Pingree, a Democrat from the Penobscot Bay island of North Haven. Twenty-nine percent said they would vote for Scontras, a businessman from Eliot who grew up in Kittery and played for the 1989 and 1990 Black Bears. Seventeen percent were undecided.
The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if the poll were repeated 100 times, in 95 cases the results would be within four percentage points of those reported.
“We get a very good feeling out there for the positions we take,” said Pingree, who served eight years in the Maine Senate, including two terms as majority leader. “But I don’t take anything for granted in a political campaign.”
Pingree, 55, spoke Friday from her Portland office. She won the seat vacated in 2008 by six-term Rep. Tom Allen of Portland, who launched an unsuccessful bid for the Senate against Susan Collins. Democrats have held the 1st District office for all but two of the past 23 years, with Falmouth Republican James Longley Jr.’s one term in 1995-96 the lone exception.
Scontras, 40, is scheduled to speak this afternoon in Westbrook’s Riverbank Park at a gathering organized by tea party activists. His campaign released the following statement:
“This poll offers some encouraging news because we are challenging an incumbent and haven’t spent a dime on TV or newspaper ads yet. The recent Republican victories in seemingly safe districts in strong Democratic states mean that Maine is certainly in play this time. In truth, though, the only poll that really counts is the one on November 2, 2010 — and we’ll win that one.”
The party breakdown of the district, based on the slightly more than 500,000 voters who participated in the most recent presidential election, is 33.8 percent Democratic, 26.5 percent Republican, 3.3 percent Green Independent and 36.4 percent unaffiliated. Among those un-enrolled voters polled, the vote was nearly evenly split among Pingree (33 percent), Scontras (29 percent) and undecided (35 percent).
Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine, said he expected that kind of support for Pingree in the Democratic-leaning 1st District. For the Republicans to pick up that seat would be “almost inconceivable.”
“If that kind of district is in trouble for Democrats this year,” Brewer said, “it will be a tsunami of seat changes (nationwide) like we’ve never seen.”
Scontras pulled in 56 percent of voters who called themselves conservative, while Pingree picked up 90 percent of those who identified themselves as liberal. Among moderates, Pingree held a 50-21 advantage with 27 percent undecided.
Pingree, the first female Democrat sent to Congress from Maine and first woman ever to hold the 1st District seat, enjoyed a 58-22 advantage among female voters, with 20 percent undecided. Scontras fared better among men, but still trailed Pingree 47-36 with 15 percent undecided.
Voters with a college degree went for Pingree by a margin of 60-27 with 12 percent undecided. Those without a degree were twice as likely to be undecided (23 percent), but still favored Pingree, 45-32.
“Polls can show a variety of things,” Pingree said. “Certainly, I’d rather be ahead, but it’s Election Day that matters. I intend to continue working hard every day.”
An earlier poll taken the first week of September by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina showed Pingree with only a 47-38 advantage among likely Maine voters in the 1st District. That, along with the success of tea party-backed candidates in Republican primaries around the nation last week, gave Scontras reason for optimism.
“I very clearly think it’s an anti-establishment year,” said Scontras, who has a background in sales and marketing in the fields of technology and energy. “The best way I’ve heard it put is: Americans don’t want to be governed by the Right, they don’t want to be governed by the Left. People want to be governed less.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: