If voters in Maine’s 1st Congressional District are up in arms about Rep. Chellie Pingree’s travel aboard her fiance’s private jet, it’s not evident in an independent poll conducted Monday.

Pingree, a first-term Democrat from North Haven, leads Republican challenger Dean Scontras of Eliot by a slightly larger margin than in a poll conducted two weeks earlier, with 54 percent of likely voters saying they support her compared with 26 percent for Scontras.

The Maine Poll, a statewide telephone survey of 405 likely voters, was conducted Monday for MaineToday Media by the Portland firm Critical Insights.

Two weeks ago, The Maine Poll had voters favoring Pingree by a 53-29 percent margin. Considering the poll’s 4.9 percentage-point margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level, the results are virtually identical.

“For most people, it’s just not going to have an effect on how they vote,” said Brian Duff, associate professor of political science at the University of New England in Biddeford. “People tend to hate Congress, but they tend to like their congressperson.”

Republicans have criticized Pingree for traveling aboard the $25 million jet owned by S. Donald Sussman, a wealthy hedge fund manager, after speaking out as head of Common Cause against members of Congress using corporate jets. Although her 2006 remarks were made in the wake of a lobbying scandal involving Jack Abramoff and several prominent Republicans, her written testimony before Congress said that “lobbyists are not the problem, the jets are.”

Two out of three voters surveyed from the 1st District said the travel imbroglio made no difference in how they would vote. Of the remaining one-third who said it would affect them, opinion was evenly split between those more likely to vote for Pingree and those less likely to vote for her.

Seventy percent of the 187 1st District voters surveyed said they were aware of the news surrounding Pingree’s travel on her fiance’s jet.

Duff said he is skeptical of that number.

“When you call people and ask them if they have an opinion on an issue, they’ll say yes because they’ll feel stupid if they say no,” he said. “I seriously doubt if 70 percent have heard about this Chellie Pingree private jet thing, or if they had, they hadn’t paid close attention.”

Scontras said his campaign sees numbers more in line with a North Carolina firm’s survey taken the first week of September showing Pingree with a 47-38 percent advantage.

“I’m going to continue to focus on the issues and the fact that she’s voted with Speaker Pelosi 98.5 percent of the time,” said Scontras, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. “I’ve got to go to town halls and make my pitch that continuing a Pelosi Congress is not a good idea.”

Pingree’s biggest support came from females (a 60-15 percent advantage), college-educated voters (64-20 percent) and those with household incomes below $100,000.

Campaign spokesman Willy Ritch said the jet issue is a red herring.

“People in Maine know a political attack when they see one,” he said. “It made for sensational headlines, and certainly her opponent thinks that he could score some political points with it, but the truth is that people want to hear about creating jobs, protecting Social Security and making health care more affordable — the real issues.

“Those things are what Chellie has been talking about, and I think the voters have responded to that.”

Duff said the image of a member of Congress hobnobbing on a fancy private jet fits in with a cynical stereotype of those in power.

“Nonetheless, it would take a lot for Chellie Pingree to really get tripped up on this particular issue,” he said. “She’s a candidate who’s pretty in-step with her district. It’s a Democratic district, so as long as the Democrat doesn’t screw up really bad, they’ll win.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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