REPUBLICAN 1st Congressional District candidate Jon Courtney, left, campaigns with state Rep. Paul Bennett and Bennett’s daughter in Kennebunk. Courtney is running against two-term Democratic incumbent Chellie Pingree.

REPUBLICAN 1st Congressional District candidate Jon Courtney, left, campaigns with state Rep. Paul Bennett and Bennett’s daughter in Kennebunk. Courtney is running against two-term Democratic incumbent Chellie Pingree.


Republican Jon Courtney admits he sometimes feels like David going up against Goliath in his quest to unseat Democrat Chellie Pingree from her congressional seat in November’s election.

In his campaign to represent Maine’s 1st District, Courtney is challenging a well-financed, two-term incumbent. Pingree has a well-known name, a wellfunded organization and a wealthy husband who could kick money into her campaign if needed.

And the district is a Democratic stronghold. Of the past 13 elections, a Republican has won only one.

“We understand what we’re up against,” Courtney said. “We realize we won’t be able to raise that kind of money. But we’re raising it one handshake at a time. And you know what? It feels good when you raise it one handshake at a time.”

Pingree, 57, has become a national favorite of liberals and progressives in her two terms representing southern and coastal Maine. Even with her advantages, Pingree said, she never takes anything for granted in politics.

“Maine is the kind of state that can go in any direction,” Pingree said. “Sometimes we have Republicans in the U.S. Senate; sometimes we have Democrats. We elect occasional independents.”

This year’s campaign has been tame compared with 2010, when Pingree ran against Republican Dean Scontras.

In that campaign, Republicans made hay over Pingree’s use of wealthy financier S. Donald Sussman’s private jet and attempted to paint her as living the high life while portraying herself as an everyday Mainer. Pingree and Sussman were engaged at the time and are now married.

Late in the campaign, polls indicated that Scontras was pulling close, but Pingree won 55-42 percent.

This time, there has yet to be any TV advertising and nobody’s making much of a fuss over Pingree’s husband.

Courtney, 46, is well behind Pingree in the polls and in fundraising. Through June, he had raised $37,000 to Pingree’s $784,000, according to Federal Elections Commission filings. Courtney says he’s now raised a little over $100,000.

The race has been overshadowed by the higher-profile Senate race pitting independent Angus King against Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill to determine who will replace Sen. Olympia Snowe, who is not running for re-election.

Mark Eyerman, of Portland, said he thinks Pingree will win by 25 percentage points or more. Eyerman, 65, said most people probably would have a hard time naming Pingree’s opponent.

“My guess is if you walk up and down the street and ask people who the Republican candidate is, what’s the answer? I’m guessing no name recognition at all,” he said while sitting in a Portland park last week.

But there’s no doubt in Josh Wohl-Schneider’s mind that change is needed in Washington.

“She’s an incumbent. Therefore I won’t be voting for her,” Wohl-Schneider, 35, of Westbrook, said last week while grabbing lunch from a hot dog vendor in Portland. “The only way to change the system is to get new people in there.”

Courtney is trying to make a name by visiting business in towns throughout the district and speaking to community groups.

On a recent day in Kennebunk, he was joined by a local state representative while visiting the post office, banks and other businesses.

In his spiel, Courtney emphasizes his work in Augusta, where he has served four terms in the Senate and is now the Senate majority leader. He touts Republican successes the past two years in welfare reform, regulatory streamlining, cutting the income tax rate, health insurance reform and working across the aisle to get bi-partisan support for bills.

The biggest concerns in Washington are job creation, the federal debt and gridlock in Congress, Courtney said. The answer to reducing the federal debt isn’t to raise taxes or cut federal expenditures, but rather to grow the economy, he said.

“This problem won’t be solved by government,” he said. “It’ll be solved by entrepreneurs, people who create jobs.”

Pingree agrees the economy needs a jolt, jobs need to be created, that the federal debt needs to be addressed and that partisan politics is a problem. She feels constituents have been pleased with her showing in Washington and her constituent services.

“We don’t get a lot of feedback that isn’t favorable,” she said. “There are always people who are disappointed in the job you do, and there are always people who think they’d be better-served with a Republican. That’s just the nature of the work. I go to work every day, I fight for issues people care about and I like to think that results in people being supportive of the work I do.”

Courtney has a tough battle, said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.

The district has become reliably Democratic and more liberal over the years, which favors Pingree, he said. The only Republican victory since the 1986 election came in 1994, when Republican James Longley Jr. eked out a victory in an election that gave the party control of the U.S. House for the first time in 40 years.

Courtney’s chances are slim barring some Pingree scandal, gaffe or revelation regarding her husband, which nobody’s expecting to happen, Brewer said.

“It’s nothing against Courtney,” he said. “It’s the nature of the district.”

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