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

(Continued from page 5)

click image to enlarge

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

click image to enlarge

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

Less than a year after the election, Summers was called up again. During his tour with Mullen, he spent several weeks with a Special Forces unit in Afghanistan, and was even caught in a firefight. He says such experiences put things in context.

"Do we have problems in Washington? Yes, but let's look at what's important here," he says. "At least for me, it's more about service to country than service to party."


Shortly after his return from duty, voters gave Republicans control of the State House for the first time in decades. In December 2010, Republican legislators elected Summers secretary of state, a constitutional position that he holds today and that has oversight of elections.

His most high-profile act as secretary of state was controversial: an election fraud investigation of the 206 out-of-state college students on a list given to Summers by state Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster. Although Webster held a news conference after delivering the list, investigators were unable to find a single instance of voter fraud by the students. Summers then sent letters to some of the exonerated students suggesting they might still be in violation of state law for not having registered their cars.

"Engaging in this hunt for students at the request of the chair of one of the political parties created at a minimum the appearance of impropriety that did more damage to our elections system than any student voter ever has," says Zach Heiden of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which represented the students. "The students, a number of whom contacted us, took (the follow-up letter) as a threat that they would get in trouble somehow if they voted."

In 2011, Summers declined to endorse Snowe, who was then running for re-election against little-known tea party-backed challengers. He said such an endorsement would be a conflict of interest with his official position, an explanation that didn't wash with some critics. The failure to endorse has caused his mentor to give him the cold shoulder since, and Snowe has told reporters she won't donate to his campaign as a result of the incident.

"He owed a lot to her, and I think it speaks to character that he refused to support her," says political consultant Ted O'Meara, a friend and former staffer to Snowe. "I think it was taken as a real slap in the face."

Summers says he greatly regrets the situation, but that it is a result of a misunderstanding. "My concern was that by using my office -- when you're the chief elections official, would not have been good for my office and would not have been good for her," he says. "I have supported her and I think the world of her and I hope we can bridge the gap that may or may not be there."

But University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer says that explanation doesn't hold water. "Charlie Summers hasn't seen fit to recuse himself from his secretary of state duties when he's running for office and his wife is running for office," he says. "If you're not troubled by that, you can't be troubled by endorsing Snowe."

When Snowe announced she would not seek re-election this February, Summers decided to make another go at federal office. He won his party's primary in June.

Political observers say he has run to the right of his previous stances, especially in emphasizing his belief that humans are not behind climate change and his embrace of conservative activist Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge, which would prohibit him even from eliminating existing tax breaks and loopholes. "He may feel he is in the same place ideologically that he always has been, but the issues on which he has chosen to focus certainly have shifted," says Jim Melcher of the University of Maine Farmington.

Summers says he's the same candidate as always, and points out that he's also attacked as allegedly being a Republican In Name Only.

"It doesn't matter who we sent to the Senate, whether it was Bill Cohen or George Mitchell, they took responsibility to move things forward," he says. "That's the approach that I take to this."

Staff Writer Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at: cwoodard@pressherald.com


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

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

click image to enlarge

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

click image to enlarge

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

click image to enlarge

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


Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)