Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill took a step toward becoming Maine’s next U.S. senator Tuesday, winning their parties’ nominations to be on the ballot in November.
Next up: Angus King.
Summers and Dill will now face each other, as well as the popular former governor, in a general election with national ramifications. The race is expected to be one of the most expensive ever in Maine because it could help determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate between Republicans and Democrats.
Despite the high stakes nationally, election officials reported an unusually low turnout at the polls statewide Tuesday.
Summers, Maine’s secretary of state and a commander in the Navy Reserve, defeated five other Republicans by getting 30 percent of the vote, with 84 percent of voting precincts reporting as of this morning. State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin was second with 23 percent.
Poliquin did not concede the race, so Summers declined to declare victory Tuesday night. “I would say we are on a glider path to victory,” Summers said. “It does look like we are in the right spot.”
Among other Republicans, former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett had 18 percent of the vote, Attorney General Bill Schneider had 10 percent, state Sen. Debra Plowman had 9 percent and conservative activist Scott D’Amboise had 11 percent.
Dill, a state senator and a civil rights lawyer from Cape Elizabeth, defeated three Democratic rivals by collecting 45 percent of the vote, with 84 percent of the precincts reporting as of this morning.
Dill got strong support from southern Maine to edge out former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who had 35 percent of the vote.
“I think we’ve proven that you can run a campaign positively,” Dill said after claiming victory Tuesday. “We’ll be friends going forward,” she said, referring to the other Democratic candidates.
“To Angus King – bring it on, baby,” Dill said.
Democratic state Rep. Jon Hinck had 12 percent of the vote and businessman Benjamin Pollard had 8 percent.
The race to replace U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, could decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. It has drawn national attention to the state. Snowe, in fact, said in February she was retiring because of the hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington.
However, the primaries did little to excite Maine’s Democrats and Republicans. The voter turnout was unusually low even for a primary election, which typically draws about 20 percent of registered voters.
The final turnout was not clear at deadline. Summers, whose office oversees elections, predicted a roughly 18 percent turnout after the polls closed.
Turnout was especially low in Portland, a Democratic stronghold. About 10.2 percent of the registered voters in Maine’s largest city cast ballots, according to Portland’s election administrator.
“I can’t imagine it being this slow at this point at any time in the past decade,” Bud Philbrick said around noon.
Neither Poliquin nor Dunlap had conceded as of midnight, even though The Associated Press had called the races for Summers and Dill.
Summers, a 52-year-old father of three from Scarborough, has made three unsuccessful bids for Congress. He ran for the 1st Congressional District seat in 1994, 2004 and 2008.
He said Tuesday that he plans to keep working as secretary of state while running in the general election.
Summers served in the state Legislature and worked for many years as the state director for Snowe. He emphasized his military experience and his understanding of veterans issues.
He campaigned against runaway spending and tax increases and said he supports a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He also said he would vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s health care reform law, if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t overturn it this summer.
Summers is moderate on social issues, saying he supports legal access to abortion, for example.
Summers was in the middle of the Republican pack when it came to fundraising. He had raised $89,915 through May 23, mostly relying on large donations from Mainers or people with Maine ties. He gave $50,000 of his own money to his campaign in the last two weeks of the campaign, according to 48-hour filings with the Federal Election Commission. It wasn’t immediately clear what Summers’ campaign spent the money on.
Dill is a 47-year-old civil rights lawyer who has served in the Legislature representing Cape Elizabeth since 2006. She earned a reputation as one of the Legislature’s more outspoken critics of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. She also was seen as one of the most liberal candidates in the primary, frequently describing herself as “a progressive Democrat.”
Dill criticized Republicans for causing the political dysfunction in Washington, as well as the swollen budget deficit and national debt. She said she would go to the Senate to restore justice for working people, raise taxes on the wealthy, cut military spending and protect social programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Dill actively courted the support of women, emphasizing her experience as a professional woman and working mother.
She supports access to abortion, family planning services and insurance coverage for contraceptives. Dill supports the Affordable Care Act. She also supports a feasibility study for a national park in Maine’s North Woods.
Dill won despite lagging behind her rivals in fundraising. Dill had raised $38,455 through May 23, with no money from central or northern Maine donors.
It’s not clear how much Democrats nationally will send to support Dill in the general election campaign. King is expected to draw more support from Democrats than Republicans.
After declaring victory Tuesday, Dill dismissed suggestions that King will make it hard to raise money in the campaign.
“Fundraising will always be a challenge for Democrats when you’re facing Republicans and their Super PACs,” she said, adding that King had created “an interruption in the campaign by diluting money and separating votes.”
King’s entry into the race as an independent made him the presumed front-runner. The fact that he wasn’t on a ballot Tuesday kept some voters away from the polls, officials said.
Peter Gaulke, a left-leaning Republican in Portland, said he couldn’t vote for any of the GOP candidates on the ballot so he wrote in King’s name.
“I’d just like to see people be more pragmatic. Ideology has gone too far,” Gaulke said. “People can rail against the government, but we are the government – of the people, by the people, for the people. People need to get the work done and stop worrying about ideology. It’s not helping anybody.”
Many voters view King as difficult to beat. And Democrats worry that King, a former member of their party, could siphon off Democratic votes and give Republicans an advantage.
“The reality is that I do think Angus King will win the general election,” said Elizabeth Simpson, a Democrat who said she’d vote for King if necessary to keep the Senate out of GOP hands.
The lack of participation led one voter to ponder the reasons.
“It’s obviously a sad sight,” said Alex Beinstein, who recently moved to Portland to attend law school.
Beinstein, who is 23, said young people seem disillusioned with the political process. That helped explain the low turnout, he said.
But Beinstein acknowledged the impact of King. Residents who plan to vote for him in November are staying away, he speculated.
Beinstein, however, feels King, who is 68, is too old to be an effective, long-term leader in the Senate. He voted for Dill.
Staff Writers Beth Quimby, Eric Russell, Jessica Hall and Susan M. Cover and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: