PORTLAND — Rep. Chellie Pingree turned back a spirited challenge from Republican Dean Scontras and earned a second term in Congress on Tuesday.

Despite pre-election polls that showed a statistical dead heat in Maine’s 1st District, Pingree took 57 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Scontras, with 138 of the district’s 184 precincts – 75 percent – reporting.

“I was very pleased,” said Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven. “We believed all along that we were running a strong campaign and we were doing well. We trusted our polls more than the ones we were reading about. But we also worked really hard to make sure we got out the vote.”

Pingree arrived at the Port Hole Restaurant on Portland’s waterfront at 10:30 p.m. with her family and fiance S. Donald Sussman. The crowd of more than 100 people erupted when she entered the room, chanting “Chellie, Chellie.”

The congresswoman started by thanking her supporters.

“Maine people are facing very tough times,” she said. “This was a hard, hard election. We proved this is about the issues. This is about the things that are important to Maine people.”

The crowd then cheered after every issue Pingree rattled off: affordable health care for all Mainers, an expansion of jobs and the green economy, ending dependence on foreign oil, defense of a woman’s right to choose abortion, and marriage equality.

“I want to thank my opponent for a hard-fought race,” Pingree said. “I want to thank the voters in Maine for the honor of returning me to Congress.”

Shortly after a crowd of Scontras supporters chanted his name and waved signs for live television coverage, the challenger took the podium at the Regatta Banquet and Conference Center in Eliot and announced his concession.

“We’re proud of you, Deano,” called out Steve Theriault, 46, a water systems designer from South Berwick.

At 10:27 p.m., Scontras addressed his supporters with the news that it was over.

“I have called Chellie’s campaign manager and told them the night is theirs,” Scontras said. “However, this campaign has been one I’ll never forget.”

Pingree, the incumbent Democrat from North Haven, extended her party’s control of Maine’s 1st District to an eighth consecutive term. In 2008, she won the open seat from Republican Charlie Summers, 55-45 percent, after six-term Democrat Tom Allen attempted an unsuccessful run at Sen. Susan Collins.

As an incumbent with a fiance, hedge-fund manager Sussman, who has long been a generous supporter of Democratic causes in Maine and around the country, Pingree built up an enormous financial advantage over Scontras. As of the last reporting period, Oct. 13, Pingree had raised $1,028,116 – nearly three times the amount raised by Scontras ($365,270).

However, Scontras steadily pulled closer in polls after trailing by more than 20 points in late September. His message of fiscal restraint and an out-of-touch Congress appealed to voters angry about corporate bailouts and a moribund economy, and news of Pingree traveling on her fiance’s private jet, although cleared by the House ethics committee, allowed the GOP to cast her as an elitist with Wall Street ties.

As the race drew closer, more spending came from outside sources, with more than half a million dollars spent by political action committees in support of Pingree and opposed to Scontras, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the final week of the campaign, the liberal-leaning People for the American Way dumped a whopping $260,000 into television and radio ads attacking Scontras on Social Security – while at the same time spreading $28,099 in opposition to Republican Senate hopefuls Rand Paul of Kentucky, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ken Buck of Colorado.

The amount of PAC money opposing Pingree was a little over $100,000 and no outside spending was reported in support of Scontras.
“My opponent outspent us significantly,” Scontras said Tuesday night. “You may have known that by some of the advertisements that were run against us. But we did it on the backs of a few good people that I’ve come to love, trust and respect for their integrity, their honor and their hard work.”

After enjoying big early leads in polls heading into the election season, Pingree found herself defending flights on the private jet of Sussman, and being branded hypocritical and out of touch by the Maine GOP.

The final weeks of the campaign showed a statistical dead heat between Pingree and Scontras, who tapped into the anti-incumbent national mood and touted himself as an independent outsider not tied to either party.

In the final days of the campaign, a big dose of ads attacking Scontras for his plan to tinker with Social Security resonated with seniors.
“The gentleman that wanted to do something with Social Security scared me,” said Barbara Lord, 65, of Hallowell, a registered Republican who voted for Pingree.

Andrew McFarland, a 22-year-old student from Windham who isn’t enrolled in a party, said he voted for Pingree because he didn’t like ads attacking her.

“Particularly the ones about taking the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi’s hands,” said McFarland, referring to the House speaker from California. “I don’t think he should try to get in by calling for someone else to be taken out.”

“Though the results aren’t what we wanted them to be, I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Scontras said, “because in exchange for this evening, I’ve got a room and a state full of friends that share the same principles that I do for a better state and for a better country.

Though we didn’t have success tonight, if we keep on, we’ll have success in the future.”

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell contributed to this report.

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