SCARBOROUGH – After years of traveling Maine’s back roads to meet voters, Charlie Summers doesn’t need a GPS to find his way around. He doesn’t even allow one in the car.
“Charlie is the Garmin,” said Chase Martin, a campaign staffer who spent Saturday driving the Republican U.S. Senate candidate to campaign stops in York and Cumberland counties.
Ten days before the election, Saturday was busy for Summers and his family, who tagged along as he spoke to voters, shook hands and carved out a little time for pumpkin bowling with the youngest of his three children.
“It seems like every day is pretty darn busy,” said Summers, 52, as he wiped off his kitchen counter before leaving his home in Scarborough for the day.
It was 9:15 a.m. and he’d already fed his two horses with help from his 3-year-old son, Thomas, had breakfast with his family and taken out the trash.
With Thomas and the family dog, Gus, running around the driveway in circles, Summers and his staff loaded into a car and went out for a day on the campaign trail.
The first stop of the day was Saco, where Summers spoke to about 30 people at the York County Republican office on Main Street.
He talked mainly about small businesses and his experience working in the hotel that his family ran while he grew up in Kewanee, Ill.
Pointing out the window and across the Saco River, he talked about how difficult it can be to own a small business like the convenience store and redemption center he once ran in Biddeford.
“This is a hard race, but it’s one we can win,” Summers told supporters.
Some at the town hall meeting were familiar faces from his time representing the area in the state Senate in the early 1990s, Summers said, but many were newer supporters.
Nancy Lee Kelley, a Gold Star mother from Old Orchard Beach, was among those in the audience who have known Summers for years. She sent him care packages through her Hugs of Love campaign when he was deployed to Iraq with the Naval Reserve.
“It’s refreshing to see someone running who has served in Iraq, who is a veteran and who is married to a veteran,” Kelley said during the meeting.
After Summers spoke for nearly an hour, his staffers tried to get him out the door on schedule. Their progress was slowed when Summers stopped on the sidewalk to point out his favorite restaurants to a friend.
Eventually, Summers was bound for his next stop while his wife, Ruth Summers, and Thomas went off to campaign on his behalf at a Thornton Academy football game.
Outside a playoff football game at Windham High School, Summers and Republican state Sen. Jon Courtney, who is running for the U.S. House, introduced themselves to Portland and Windham fans.
Many told Summers they recognized him from television ads, while others tried to hand him their tickets. He took it all in stride, laughing easily with people who stopped to chat.
Summers and his family must balance his campaign stops and those of his wife, a candidate for state Senate in District 6, in Scarborough, Gorham and Westbrook.
Though Summers has been on vacation from his job as Maine’s secretary of state for a few weeks, his days start before dawn with phone calls to his staff in Augusta.
He said he does his best not to drink too much coffee or subsist solely on fast food while on the road. He tries to be home for dinner and keep Sundays as low-key as possible.
“If you don’t think about it and just do it, it’s a lot more manageable,” he said.
Ruth Summers, who campaigned for her husband in 2008 when he was deployed overseas, said running for office has become “a family business.”
“We’re lucky in that Charlie has a great team. They’re very respectful of my time and Thomas’ time,” she said.
After leaving the football game and grabbing a quick lunch at a Subway with Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, Summers stopped at several small businesses in Windham and Raymond to talk to owners and customers.
By midafternoon, he had added a stop to his schedule: the Camp Sunshine Pumpkin Festival at L.L. Bean in Freeport.
The festival gave him a chance to talk with a few more voters but, just as importantly, it was a fun stop for Thomas and his dad.
With Thomas on his shoulders, Summers made his way down paths lined with pumpkins, stopping occasionally to talk to people. He showed Thomas how to bowl with a pumpkin before they went on an imaginary fishing trip from atop a large rock outside the store.
Along the way, Thomas picked up souvenirs and handed them to his dad, leaving Summers walking around with his hands full of rocks and sticks.
On the days when campaign stops seem endless, such moments with his family keep him going.
There’s nothing better than arriving home after a long day to find Thomas ready to just hang out with dad, Summers said. “It melts a lot of the day away.”
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This story was updated at 8:33 a.m. Wednesday, October 31, 2012 to correct Jon Coutney’s office.