Republican Dean Scontras continues to gain ground in his bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree in Maine’s 1st District, according to the fourth and final edition of The Maine Poll.

Scontras, an alternative-energy entrepreneur from Eliot, received 45 percent support compared with 41 percent for Pingree in a telephone poll done Wednesday and Thursday for MaineToday Media by the Portland research firm Critical Insights.

Eleven percent of respondents were undecided.

It is the first time Scontras has polled higher than Pingree, although they remain in a statistical dead heat because the sample size of 295 likely voters has a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

That means that if the poll were repeated 100 times, in 95 cases the results would be within 6 percentage points of those reported.

A week ago, Pingree led Scontras by five points, 45 to 40, which also signaled a statistical tie.
Three earlier independent polls showed Pingree, who is seeking a second term, leading by double-digit margins.

“I don’t understand it,” said Ron Schmidt, a professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine.

 “Usually, for this kind of a shift, either she would have had to have made a major misstep, he would have had to have made a major coup, or something else would have had to have happened to realign the numbers.”

Scontras, reached on his way to greet fans at a high school football game Friday night, said he has felt momentum building in his campaign since the first of three debates with Pingree, beginning last week and concluding Tuesday night.

“I think there’s a stereotype of what they’re trying to say about me that’s just not sticking,” he said. “They’ve been trying to reinforce it with all these negative ads on TV.”

Throughout the debates, Pingree pointed out the differences between the Scontras who campaigned in 2008 as opposed to civil unions, gay marriage and all forms of abortion, and the Scontras of 2010 who sweeps those positions aside by saying he respects existing law and will not advocate for or fight against social issues.

“They haven’t changed,” he said of his positions, “but as a member of Congress and what you can do and influence, the fact that all spending bills start in the United States House is the primary goal. … I think there’s a gaping hole in the financial roof of this country and it would be irresponsible of me to try and do anything else but fix that hole.”

He said his campaign has events planned through Monday night, beginning with a morning rally today in Portland involving former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Maine’s Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Also in Portland this morning is Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, for a rally with Pingree and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell.

On Friday, the Pingree campaign took issue with The Maine Poll’s sample size and polling methods, saying it yielded a higher percentage of conservative voters and included only 15 percent senior citizens.

“Our most recent survey showed 50 to 41 (percent) for Chellie,” said Celinda Lake, a Washington D.C.-based pollster who is working for the Pingree campaign, referring to a tracking survey taken over three nights last weekend.
The Maine Poll sample was 40 percent Democratic, 39 percent Republican and 19 percent unaffiliated or independent.
The district’s breakdown from the 2008 election showed the latter group to be the largest, at 36 percent, with 34 percent Democrats and 27 percent Republicans.
“It is possible that the data is too narrow to give a representative sample,” said Schmidt, the USM professor.
“But if the numbers are correct, I’m stumped as to whether this represents a real shift in political loyalties in Maine or whether it is a desperate reaction to unsettling times or whether this is just about some well-run campaigns and some lackluster campaigns.

“That third explanation could explain what’s happened to Mitchell and what’s happened with (Republican gubernatorial front-runner Paul) LePage, but I don’t think it would explain what’s happened with Scontras and Pingree,” he said.

 “I don’t think her campaign is particularly poorly run and I don’t think his is particularly well run. I think they’re both within the norm.”

Scontras said he believes that support for LePage and his focus on reduced spending and smaller government “certainly helps my candidacy and my message.”

Among voters who expressed a preference for LePage, 87 percent also backed Scontras. Pingree connected at a 94 percent ratio with those supporting Mitchell.
 Among respondents who preferred independent Eliot Cutler, 57 percent went with Pingree and 36 percent with Scontras.

Douglas Hodgkin, a retired professor of political science at Bates College and a registered Republican, noted that most national tracking polls have deemed Pingree’s seat safely Democratic, but he’s not surprised that Scontras appears to be a genuine threat.
“There’s been this steady drip, drip, drip of information the past two or three weeks that is relatively easy to understand,” said Hodgkin, referring to Pingree’s well-publicized rides on the jet of her fiance, hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman, as well as his significant contributions to Democratic causes in the state.

“If you get into policy-wonkish kind of debates, that tends to go over people’s heads,” Hodgkin said.
“But it’s this very rich lifestyle that doesn’t set well with small-town Maine.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]