PORTLAND — Chellie Pingree, the first Democratic woman to represent Maine in the U.S. House, handily won reelection to a third term on Tuesday.
With 41 of 175 state precincts reporting by 10:45 p.m., Pingree led her Republican opponent, Jon Courtney, with 63 percent of the vote to his 33 percent.
Buoyed by strong support in Portland and farther up the coast toward her hometown of North Haven, Pingree solidified the 1st District’s reputation as reliably Democratic. A Republican hasn’t held that seat since Bill Clinton’s first term.
Pingree gave a victory speech at 9:45 p.m. after the Associated Press called the race for her. As she entered Bayside Bowl in Portland, accompanied by her husband S. Donald Sussman, the enthusiastic crowd of about 300 chanted “Chellie, Chellie” and waved signs.
“Other members of Congress got the message today voters want Congress to work hard to improve the economy and fight for jobs,” Pingree said. Pingree, 57, said she is looking forward to getting back to Washington to help fight climate change, for equality “and to put our country back on track.”
Pingree said her daughter Hannah could not attend the celebration because she is due with her second child on Thursday.
Courtney conceded the race just after 10 p.m., waiting to speak to supporters until he had called Pingree. He addressed about 25 family and friends at the Hilton Garden Inn in Portland.
“As I leave this race tonight, I accept the will of the people but you can’t dismiss someone’s opinion just because it’s different from yours,” Courtney said. “Find the common ground and push for it. You can’t just say it’s my way or the highway. I have no regrets.”
The 1st District U.S. House race was largely overlooked during the campaign season, as interest shifted to the presidential race, the U.S. Senate race and a ballot initiative to allow same-sex couples the right to marry.
Most political watchers agreed Courtney didn’t have much of a chance from the outset. Pingree is popular, especially with Democrats, and raised 10 times as much as Courtney in campaign donations.
She almost didn’t run for re-election. In March, after U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe announced that she would not seek a fourth term, Pingree began gathering signatures to run for the seat, until former independent Maine Gov. Angus King got into the race. Pingree then stepped aside.
Pingree’s first successful run for the U.S. House was in 2008 when she won 55 percent of the vote, defeating Republican Charlie Summers – who this year sought to win Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat. Two years ago, Pingree won reelection against Republican Dean Scontras with 57 percent of the vote.
Pingree’s husband, Sussman, is a financier and contributor to Democratic and charitable causes and the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.
Courtney, 46, also served four terms in the Maine Senate. He wrapped up his final term this past legislative session as Senate President. He owns a small chain of dry cleaners in York County.
Staff writers David Hench, Dennis Hoey and Scott Dolan contributed to this story.
Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org