March 16, 2010

Experience pays off in win over Scontras

PAUL CARRIER

— By

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Photo by {Gordon Chibroski}, {20080610}:Charlie Summers campaign reception at The Thomas room. Charlie walks in to celebration and greets volunteers and family. He greets young volunteer, Casey Bouchard, 13, and sister, Paige Bouchard, 10 on left, both of South Portland who were there with parents, Sue and Peter Bouchard.

Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

Republican Charles Summers of Scarborough, who missed most of the primary campaign while on duty in Iraq with the U.S. Navy Reserve, won his 1st Congressional District race against Eliot businessman Dean Scontras on Tuesday.

Incomplete returns showed Summers leading Scontras, 59 percent to 41 percent. Summers began the night with a slim lead, but his margin widened with each new tabulation, and Scontras conceded defeat at about 10:45 p.m.

''We are going to win this in November,'' Summers said in his victory speech at about 11 p.m. In an interview later, he promised to offer ''optimistic but concrete solutions'' to the problems facing Mainers, including high energy and health care costs. He also vowed to fight high taxes and excessive federal spending.

Scontras sounded cautiously optimistic about 10 p.m., but he conceded less than an hour later.

''I'm glad I called myself a citizen candidate so I can go back to being a citizen,'' Scontras said. He pledged to support Summers and left the door open to another run for office in the future.

Summers faces the top vote-getter in the Democratic primary contest in the Nov. 4 general election. Chellie Pingree, a former state lawmaker from North Haven, was the winner with 45 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns.

The two-man Republican race had a lower profile than the six-person Democratic contest because the GOP field was smaller and because Scontras, unlike Summers, ran no television ads.

From the outset, the Republican race was seen as Summers' to lose because the politically seasoned Illinois native is well-known in Maine Republican circles, while Scontras is politically untested.

But Scontras, a Kittery native who pitched himself as a political outsider, waged an aggressive campaign that boosted his credibility as the primary season wore on.

While Summers raised $208,889 through May 21, Scontras pulled in $337,614, some of which he gave or loaned to his own campaign, according to finance reports.

The race shaped up as a choice between a moderate insider and a conservative newcomer who differed on some, but not all, issues.

A former state senator, Summers touted his political experience, which included two failed congressional bids in 1994 and 2004. He solidified his centrist credentials during a decade as U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's top aide in Maine, and served a stint as regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

A businessman with Maine roots but no political resume, Scontras held sales and management jobs with several high-tech companies from 1992 through 2007, before deciding to seek the congressional nomination in the 1st District.

Once he was in the race, Scontras proudly dubbed himself a ''citizen candidate'' and an heir to the conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan.

For much of the campaign, Scontras effectively found himself running against Ruth Summers, the candidate's wife, because her husband was prohibited from campaigning while on duty in Iraq.

Ruth Summers was widely praised as an effective surrogate for her husband, who returned home on May 10, but Scontras likened appearing with her to shadow boxing, because he was unable to go head to head with his opponent.

With Scontras and Summers finally able to face off in the final month of the campaign, the rhetoric heated up and the jabs became more frequent.

Scontras accused Summers of having supported tax hikes during his tenure in the Legislature, prompting Summers to counter that Scontras was misrepresenting his record.

Championing himself as the experienced candidate who knows how to get things done, Summers suggested at one point that Scontras was better-qualified to run for student-council president than for Congress.

Some policy differences also divided the two candidates, although both supported the Bush administration's tax cuts, a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage and optional private accounts for Social Security.

Summers indicated during the campaign that he does not oppose civil unions for gays and lesbians, placing him at odds with Scontras on that issue.

The two candidates also disagreed on abortion rights, which Summers supports and Scontras opposes.

Summers goes into the general election at a bit of a disadvantage because Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 1st District. But independents are the largest voting bloc of all.

The last time a Republican won the 1st District seat was in 1994, when Republican James Longley defeated Democrat Dennis Dutremble.

Longley's tenure was short-lived because he lost the seat to the current incumbent, Democratic Rep. Tom Allen, two years later.

Staff Writer Paul Carrier can be contacted at 622-7511 or at:

pcarrier@pressherald.com

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