PORTLAND — Patrick Calder conceded to Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney this afternoon in the Republican primary race for Maine’s 1st Congresssional District race.
Courtney survived a surprisingly strong challenge from the political newcomer and will now battle Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree for the 1st District seat in November.
Calder won’t seek a recount and will help Courtney campaign through the summer and fall, he said during a joint news conference at 3 p.m. today at Pat’s Pizza in Portland.
“You are a first-class act,” Courtney said, praising Calder as an articulate, effective campaigner.
As of 2:10 p.m., Courtney, who lives in Springvale, held a razor-thin 265-vote lead over Patrick Calder of Portland, with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
With a vote of 14,547 to 14,282, the difference is less than 1 percent of total votes cast.
The race to choose a Republican nominee was too close to call as results were tallied Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
“It was close,” Courtney said. “I’m humbled and honored. Patrick really connected with people and he has a bright future.”
Calder declined to say exactly what he plans to say, but he stood by a promise he made Tuesday night that he would support Courtney if he won the election.
Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said her office wouldn’t have official results until Friday. For a recount to happen, she said, the trailing candidate has to request it in writing.
The candidates were neck and neck as results rolled in throughout the night Tuesday, with Calder often holding an unexpected lead.
Calder credited his surprising performance to a strong grassroots campaign and dedicated volunteers.
“I expected it to be close, but beyond that I didn’t know,” Calder said. “I think it says a lot about the attitudes of voters in general. They’re tired of politics as usual.”
Courtney said if he won, he would immediately launch a campaign to talk to people across the district.
“We’re going to find out what they think about what’s happening in Washington and what they think the solutions are,” Courtney said.
Dan Hobart of North Yarmouth said he voted for Calder because he heard the candidate speak a few times on the radio and liked what he had to say.
“I actually didn’t know a lot about that race,” Hobart said. “I figure the money’s behind Pingree anyway.”
Tony Payne of Falmouth said he voted for Courtney because he believes the candidate’s experience in the Legislature and as a small-business owner will be helpful in Washington.
“Maine and the nation need that kind of seasoned leadership,” Payne said. “Courtney has seen the spectrum of agendas that come before a legislative body and what it takes to find solutions.”
Calder, 29, who is a cruise-ship engineer, ran as a political newcomer who wanted to be a voice for Maine’s working people in Washington, D.C. He’s also chairman of Portland’s Republican City Committee.
This was Calder’s second run for public office. In 2010, the Eastport native ran unsuccessfully against Democrat Peter Stuckey in House District 114.
During the campaign, Calder said Congress must consider ending foreign aid and should look for ways to reduce entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security. He said he opposes the president’s health care law, tax increases on the wealthy, gay marriage and extending the nation’s debt limit. He would support a balanced-budget amendment and legal access to abortion, he said.
Courtney, 45, has promised to show the same respect for Democratic colleagues in Washington that he has demonstrated for the last decade as a representative and senator in the Legislature. He said that’s what it will take to move Congress beyond ideological differences and find solutions to problems ranging from the need for more jobs to the high federal debt.
After Republican Gov. Paul LePage took office last year and the party gained majorities in the state House and Senate, Courtney moved from assistant minority leader to majority leader. In that role, Courtney has worked to reduce spending and taxes and to promote respectful bipartisan debate in the Legislature.
Courtney led the Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform, which produced legislation to streamline Maine’s regulatory processes, promote business and create jobs. The bill won nearly full support in the House and unanimous support in the Senate.
But on other issues, the Senate was divided under Courtney’s leadership. Courtney voted to repeal same-day voter registration and workers’ right to unionize at the former Decoster egg farm in Turner.
He also submitted a non-binding joint resolution supporting the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline from Alberta, Canada, which prompted a day of partisan bickering in the Senate and resulted in a 17-15 vote along party lines.
More recently, Courtney supported an $83 million reduction in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services budget, which eliminates MaineCare coverage for more than 20,000 people, cuts prescription drug coverage for senior citizens and reduces funding for Head Start. Again, the Senate vote was divided along party lines.
During the campaign, Courtney said he opposes President Obama’s health care law and tax increases on the wealthy. He said he would support extending the federal debt limit, he said, “but only if we have some true reforms to deal with our nation’s debt.” He opposes gay marriage and abortion, except in cases involving rape or incest, or when a mother’s life is at risk.
Looking at Courtney’s legislative record, he voted pro-business 86 percent to 93.5 percent of the time as a state representative and senator from 2003 to 2009, according to the Maine Economic Research Institute. Courtney voted pro-environment 40 percent of the time, according to the Maine Conservation Voters lifetime scorecard. He voted pro-labor 11 percent of the time, according to the Maine AFL-CIO lifetime scorecard.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]