The two Republicans seeking their party’s nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in Maine’s 1st Congressional District used the state GOP convention this weekend to garner support.
Both Mark Holbrook and Ande Smith outlined conservative positions to the more than 2,000 participants attending the convention.
Holbrook, a psychologist from Brunswick, a former lobsterman and commercial diver, told the delegates he wants to be a citizen legislator in Congress, not a professional politician. And he spent a good part of his speech on the convention floor attacking Pingree, saying she has contributed to a decline in traditional American values.
“Today that legacy is slipping away due to the pathologically progressive liberals like Chellie Pingree,” Holbrook says. “For decades they have been systemically eroding away everything from our religious liberties to our free-market economy.”
Holbrook says he will be a very different representative in Congress, one who will fight to uphold traditional Maine values.
“Mainers want the federal government to get out of our health care, to get out our banks, to get out of our schools, to keep bathroom options limited to his or hers,” he says.
Ande Smith, a lawyer and Navy Reserve officer, was equally passionate in his support of traditional conservative issues like a balanced budget. And he too was critical of Pingree.
“We live today under the shadow of eight years of failed leftist polices brought to life by Chellie Pingree that have touched every corner of our nation and our lives,” he says.
Smith says Pingree has misplaced priorities and has lost touch with what Mainers believe are important issues.
“Nor will I choose the path of Chellie Pingree and invest my time fretting about butterfly habitat while our veterans are left dying, waiting for the care promised them and a grateful nation owes them,” he says.
Neither Smith nor Holbrook have raised a lot of money for the primary campaign. Holbrook has contributions of just over $22,000, with more than $8,000 coming out of his own pocket. Smith has raised over $111,000, but about $18,000 is his own money.
Pingree has raised more than $309,000, with nearly $37,000 from her pocketbook, and she faces no primary opposition.
Tony Corrado, a government professor at Colby College, says demographics and voting history of the 1st District may be the biggest obstacle facing the ultimate Republican nominee.
“It’s been the case that it is a strong Democratic district, and Chellie Pingree is still well liked in the district, and it will be a difficult district for the Republicans to be competitive in,” he says.
He says too many candidates of both parties have moved to the right or left to gain advantage in a primary election only to find it is difficult to move to a more centrist position in the fall elections.
But University of Southern Maine political science professor Ron Schmidt says it may be the candidates are hoping to see a shift in the electorate in the 1st District.
“They might be thinking about how much attention the Republican side is getting in this election year and thinking they might have some roots to grow a Republican electorate in the district,” he says.
University of Maine at Farmington political scientist Jim Melcher says some Republican strategists are betting the enthusiasm unleashed in this year’s Republican presidential nominating process will translate into a lot of new voters in the fall that will cause a lot of unexpected election results.
“There are Republicans who believe this will be a wave election, that this is going to be the year that Republicans — that it will be another 2010,” he says. “That it will be another case of Republicans rising up in anger.”
Melcher says it remains to be seen whether that is what is happening.
Neither Holbrook nor Smith ever mentioned the other by name in their speeches, but for one of them to win the primary, they will have to convince Republican voters they have the best chance to unseat Pingree in the 1st District.