Re-elected by big margins on Tuesday, Maine’s two Democratic U.S. representatives will return next year to a drastically changed Congress, controlled by Republicans.
That will reduce their influence in shaping public policy and legislation that benefits Maine, political analysts said Wednesday.
But U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, representing Maine’s 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts, respectively, said they plan to work as hard as ever to represent the state and find common ground with Republicans.
“A lot of the issues we work on — Bath Iron Works shipbuilding issues, the Brunswick Naval Air Station — I do a lot of things that are not really partisan issues,” said Pingree, of North Haven. “I think I’ll still have a lot of opportunities to represent Maine and work on issues I care about.”
Michaud, of East Millinocket, expects to lose his chairmanship of the Veterans Health Subcommittee, but said serving in the minority party is not new to him.
“When I was elected to Congress in 2002 I was in the minority, and I was able to get a lot of things done,” Michaud said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.”
Despite a nationwide wave on Tuesday that swept Republicans back to power in the House, Pingree and Michaud won their races by double digits.
With nearly all polling results in by late Wednesday afternoon, Pingree led her challenger, Republican Dean Scontras of Eliot, by 14 percentage points and more than 39,000 votes. Michaud led his challenger, Jason Levesque of Auburn, by 10 percentage points and more than 24,000 votes.
Michaud said he is pleased that he was able to “withstand the tsunami that hit the Democratic Party,” and thinks he did so because “we ran a very positive campaign” and he had returned to Maine on most weekends to meet with constituents.
“In Maine, we have very unique needs that are not on the Republican and Democratic national agenda,” Michaud said.
Scontras said he will not run for Congress again. “I really like the campaigning and the politics of it,” he said, “but no.”
Levesque said he was proud of his campaign and “I vow to not stop fighting.” He said he doesn’t know if he will seek elective office again.
Pingree said she was surprised by the margin of her victory, noting that Maine voters elected a Republican governor, Paul LePage, and gave control of the state House and Senate to the GOP.
“It’s a validation of the issues we ran on and the work I’ve done the last two years,” Pingree said.
Pingree’s and Michaud’s victories appeared all the more impressive as polls in the waning days of the campaign showed statistical dead heats. The Maine Poll, done for MaineToday Media by Critical Insights of Portland, issued results Friday that showed the candidates in both races neck-and-neck.
Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch called the poll “clearly flawed.” Several political science professors expressed amazement that the poll was so wrong and questioned its methodology. MaryEllen FitzGerald, president and founder of Critical Insights, defended the poll, saying there was “a tremendous amount of movement over the weekend.”
Many undecided voters “were very energized at the last-minute effort in the gubernatorial race, and that buoyed what happened in the congressional races,” she said.
Several political science professors said the GOP takeover of Congress will affect Pingree’s and Michaud’s roles, and affect Maine.
“My guess is, their influence would be reduced somewhat,” said Ron Schmidt of the University of Southern Maine. “Michaud is more in a position of strength on the veterans committee. Pingree is more of a question; this will definitely reduce her influence.”
Sandy Maisel of Colby College said each representative is “a strong incumbent who has worked the district hard and earned a reputation for good service.”
“The roles that they play will definitely change in the new Congress. While they were not in key committee leadership positions before, it is even harder to have policy influence when in the minority,” Maisel said.
“I think it greatly undermines Maine’s clout,” said Oliver Woshinsky of USM. “Maine’s interests will certainly much less be taken into account; they won’t have the ear of committee chairs or sub-chairs.”
Another result is that Maine’s two Republican U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, “will have increasing roles because their votes become more important,” said Marvin Druker of USM’s Lewiston-Auburn college. Democrats are clinging to a narrow majority in the Senate.
“Goes to show you how independent Maine is,” said James Melcher of the University of Maine at Farmington. “We have four members of Congress, two from each party, and none are going to be in the majority.”