October 28, 2012

U.S. Senate race: Summers' previous losses don't stop quest for Congress

Defeated in three bids for the House, the Republican candidate believes his experiences in the military and as secretary of state will make the difference this time.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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At his primary election night headquarters in South Portland in June, Republican nomination winner Charlie Summers greets Brooke Briggs of Biddeford and her father, Jason, after arriving at the reception.

2012 File Photo/Derek Davis

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Charlie Summers, a high school senior in 1978, was the 6-foot-4-inch captain of the basketball team and senior class vice president, having lost a close race for president.

1978 photo from Kewanee High School yearbook

Additional Photos Below


After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Summers' public affairs unit would be repeatedly activated. Two months after an airplane struck the Pentagon, Summers was working in the building that houses the office of the Navy secretary. From July 2007 to May 2008, he was deployed to Iraq as part of the Multinational Forces Iraq Strategic Effects Directorate. From October 2009 to October 2010, he served on the staff of Adm. Mike Mullen, then chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The deployments complicated his professional and political careers, causing him to drop one job and, later, to try to run for Congress while in Baghdad.

He stepped down from Snowe's office to make a second run for Congress in 2004. He won the primary, but lost the general election to incumbent Rep. Tom Allen by 20 points.

In the aftermath of the election, Snowe backed Summers' successful application to become the Small Business Administration's New England regional administrator.

While there, Summers expressed support for George W. Bush's tax cuts, which he said gave small businesses resources to invest in new equipment. He also argued that the biggest challenge facing the region's small businesses was the high cost of health care, and said he would work to expand coverage.

"It was a fun job because you could measure what you were doing. If you helped person X get an SBA loan, you saw their business being opened and you could drive by and see the progress," Summers says. "It wasn't abstract."

He resigned from the administration in June 2007 after his Reserve unit was again called up and deployed to Baghdad's Green Zone. Although heavily fortified against ground attack, the area was subjected to rocket and mortar attacks from surrounding neighborhoods. The attacks were especially nerve-wracking when they occurred at night, when Summers was sleeping in their metal two-man residential trailer -- or "hooch" -- which would offer no protection from a direct hit.

His roommate, Michael Street of Kileen, Texas, recalls Summers being cool under fire.

"One of the things that struck me about him as a fellow Christian is that he is a man of faith," he says. "You could tell people who have it and people who don't. When the rockets start falling and the stress levels go up, he was consistent, never shaken, never too wound up by anything."

Street was also struck by Summers' sociability. "He's never met a stranger, and it was pretty funny watching him interact with the troops," he recalls. "We had Peruvians and Ugandans and Italians and Australians, and Charlie just had a way of connecting with everyone and from every walk of life. It was pretty cool to watch him lighten people's day.

"Charlie's not the sort of guy who wants to alienate one group or another," adds Street, who later came to Maine to campaign for Summers. "He's a guy you love to be around and who loves the state of Maine."

Before leaving for Iraq, Summers had launched a third bid for Congress, but was prohibited by federal law from campaigning until he returned stateside. He has said that Ruth convinced him not to drop out, and she ran his campaign in his absence. He won the primary, but ultimately lost to Pingree 55-45.

In the 2008 campaign, Summers emphasized the need to encourage alternative energy development and to exploit domestic oil reserves. He supported a $10,000 tax credit for those purchasing hybrid vehicles and called for a federal effort to achieve energy independence comparable to the Apollo program. "The sooner we're off foreign oil, the better we'll be," he told reporters.

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Additional Photos

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Charlie Summers, seen as a teenager at right, grew up in Kewanee, Ill., a Rust Belt town of 10,000, but in 1978 still arguably the “hog capital of the world.” Summers describes the town as “a cross between Presque Isle and Biddeford” – a small industrial community surrounded by flat, open farmland.

1978 photo from Kewanee High School yearbook

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Charlie Summers kisses his wife, Ruth, on primary election night last June. Ruth Summers replaced her husband as state party vice chair in 2010, and is currently the Republican candidate in state Senate District 6.

2012 File Photo/Derek Davis

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The candidate takes a call as he was waiting for primary results in June at his headquarters, the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center in South Portland. Charlie Summers won the six-way contest for the Republican nomination.

2012 File Photo/Derek Davis

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Republican Charlie Summers responds to a question last month during a debate at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. The candidate looks to bring his affable style to a legislative body paralyzed by dysfunction and partisan gridlock.

2012 File Photo/Gregory Rec


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