Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Jon Courtney has spent the last several months canvassing southern and coastal Maine. He's visited small businesses, spoken to chambers of commerce, touted his accomplishments as a state lawmaker and business owner. He has tried and tried to make a name for himself in a race that most people either are not paying attention to or assume has already been decided.
Jon Courtney, Republican candidate for Maine’s 1st District House seat, chats with Josh Leger, Tim Bremm and Mike Brown in Portland’s Old Port last week.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree speaks at a get-out-the-vote event at the Pugh Center at Colby College on Friday. “Most people know me, so they’ll either say ‘Yeah, I’m in favor of keeping her' or 'No, it’s time to go,’” she said.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
"I knew what I was getting into," Courtney said in an interview last week. "But this has been a very rewarding opportunity for me. A guy from Sanford, Maine, a guy who works cleaning people's clothes, to have the opportunity to run is a tremendous honor and privilege. No one owes me anything."
It was an uphill battle the moment Courtney, a Republican from Springvale, decided to challenge two-term incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree of North Haven for Maine's 1st District U.S. House seat.
Courtney's entrance into the race came during a frenzied period in March that followed U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's sudden announcement that she would retire rather than seek another term. Snowe's departure created an open Senate seat for the first time since the mid-1990s and it brought a host of prominent Republicans, Democrats and independents into the discussion of who might replace Snowe in Washington.
The biggest Republican names all jumped into the primary race for the U.S. Senate seat. Secretary of State Charlie Summers came out of that battle on top and now is in a three-way fight against Democrat Cynthia Dill and Angus King, former two-term independent governor.
Courtney never considered the Senate seat, but Republicans needed a candidate in the 1st District House race, too. For a few days, Pingree strongly considered stepping down from her House seat and running for the Senate instead. A possible open House seat prompted several Democrats to consider a run in the 1st District if Pingree jumped. Once King entered the race, though, Pingree stayed put.
In an interview last week at her congressional office in Portland, Pingree said she enjoys serving in the House but still feels like a "child." She's confident about her chances at re-election but is not taking anything for granted
"Most people know me, so they'll either say 'Yeah, I'm in favor of keeping her' or 'No, it's time to go'," she said.
For most of the summer and fall, the 1st District race has been an afterthought, an undercard to the Senate race, the presidential race and a statewide ballot question to approve or reject same-sex marriage. Even Maine's 2nd District U.S. House race between incumbent Democrat Mike Michaud and Republican Kevin Raye has generated more interest, mostly because it's expected to be a closer race.
Every recent poll has shown Pingree with a commanding lead, as high as 30 percent. She has raised nine times as much money as Courtney, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Political watchers say Courtney simply doesn't have much of a chance against a popular incumbent Democrat in a Democratic-leaning district.
"I don't think it would be that compelling a race without all this other stuff going on," said Ron Schmidt, a political scientist at the University of Southern Maine. "It isn't enough for people to be voting against Pingree, they have to rally around her challenger. That hasn't happened."