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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> House -- Maine -- 01

Connolly, Pingree Win Primaries

Two front-running Democrats won competitive primaries for Congress last night, giving their party a strong chance at picking up one Republican-held House seat and retaining another seat that has, in the last few decades, trended strongly Democratic.

In Virginia, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly overcame former Rep. Leslie Byrne and two other candidates to win the right to compete for retiring Republican Tom Davis's Eleventh District seat. Connolly took nearly 58% of the vote to Byrne's 33%. He will need party unity in the Fall, though, as Republicans still have a good chance at keeping the seat. President Bush won Davis's district by a seven-point margin in 2000 and by just 2,000 votes in 2004.

Davis rarely had a problem keeping his seat, though he won a surprisingly narrow 55%-44% majority in 2006. Another former chairman of the county board of supervisors, Davis decided to retire after exploring, then dropping, his bid for the GOP nomination for Senate. Since his decision to retire, Davis has become an outspoken critic of House Republican political ills and has been tapped to help the party mitigate its losses come November.

To do so, he may have to focus on his own seat first. His hand-picked successor, businessman Keith Fimian, is a political unknown, and could face an uphill climb against the better-known Connolly in the coming months. Still, Fimian has proved an apt and skilled fundraiser, pulling in more than $900,000 so far, more than Connolly by virtue of the more than $300,000 Fimian donated to himself. Too, without primary opposition, Fimian will begin the general with a big financial head start.

The race to replace Rep. Tom Allen, who is running for Senate against Republican Susan Collins, was likely decided last night in the Democratic primary. Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree held a 15-point lead with 85% of precincts reporting as of this morning, giving her the Democratic nomination in Maine's First Congressional District, based in Portland and including Augusta, the state capital.

Pingree took 44% of the vote last night, leading attorney and Iraq war veteran Adam Cote, who charged ahead of several well-known politicians to score 29%. Two state senators finished with 11% each. Pingree will take on Allen's 2004 opponent, Charlie Summers, who won the Republican nomination by a 60%-40% margin, though in a district that gave John Kerry a twelve-point win in 2004 and that Allen never had trouble keeping, Pingree remains the prohibitive favorite.

Four Primaries Up Today

Voters in four states will head to the polls today to choose party nominees in House and Senate contests, and both parties are paying close attention to several matchups that could offer insights into voters' minds in advance of November.

In Virginia's Eleventh District, Rep. Tom Davis' decision to step down opened another Republican seat in a swing district that has trended leftwards of late. Former Rep. Leslie Byrne, who represented the Fairfax-based district for a single term before Davis beat her in 1994, is running against County Board of Supervisors chair Gerry Connolly for the Democratic nomination, and the race looks closer than it once did.

Connolly, long seen as the local party's favorite choice for the seat, came in with a strong fundraising base and has largely run as the more moderate, bipartisan candidate. Backed by Senator Jim Webb, Byrne is strongly against the war in Iraq, and has run significantly to Connolly's left, aided on the fundraising front by EMILY's List. While Connolly began the race as a serious front-runner, Byrne has hit him for his association with a defense contractor and painted herself as the only real Democrat in the race, making some speculate that the race has tightened.

The winner of today's primary will face Republican Keith Fimian, who despite being largely unknown in the district, has already raised more than $900,000, including more than $300,000 of his own money. Fimian is Davis' hand-picked successor, though he will face an uphill battle in a district that President Bush only barely won in 2004.

In Maine, Democrats are choosing a replacement for Rep. Tom Allen in the state's southern First District. A district that was once at least competitive is now considered solidly Democratic, and former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree, who lost a Senate race to Republican Susan Collins in 2002, is widely viewed as the overwhelming front-runner.

Former State Senate President Mike Brennan and current State Senator Ethan Strimling, who holds an overwhelmingly Democratic Portland-based seat, are also competitive, and District Attorney Mark Lawrence and Iraq war veteran Adam Cote are the other well-funded candidates. Pingree has far outraised the others, pulling in more than $1.3 million, largely with the help of EMILY's List. Two Republicans are running as well, though neither is seen as a serious challenge in a district that re-elected Allen with more than 60% in all but his initial race.

Allen will be on the ballot as well today. The six-term Congressman is expected to cruise to victory by a wide margin over an unknown educator to win the right to take on Collins in November. Polls have showed Collins owning a big lead in the race, though national Democrats have made known they will spend significantly in the state.

Farther south, Senator Lindsey Graham faces a challenge from former RNC committee member Buddy Witherspoon, who has slammed the South Carolina Republican for his involvement in the so-called "Gang of 14," a group of senators who reached bipartisan agreements on judicial nominees, and for Graham's support for a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform. While Witherspoon has gotten some attention, and while Graham is not the most popular Republican in the state, the incumbent is likely to cruise to renomination.

More interesting in the Palmetto State will be Governor Mark Sanford's efforts to target a number of incumbents from his own party in state legislative races. Frustrated with some legislators' spending habits and their attempts to override his vetoes of spending measures, Sanford has actively campaigned against incumbents for months in hopes of winning a new, more cooperative majority.

Finally, though voters in North Dakota get to head to the polls today, the two statewide races have already been decided. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a Democrat, is seeking his ninth term and will face retired Navy officer Duane Sand in November. Pomeroy beat Sand by a wide 60%-40% margin in 2004. And Governor John Hoeven is seeking his third term; he and Lieutenant Governor Jack Dalrymple will face State Senator Tim Mathern and State Rep. Merle Boucher, the Democratic ticket, this Fall.

ME Field Set

Filing closed Monday in Maine, where an open House seat is attracting big attention from a number of prominent Democrats. The state's First District, based around the state capitol in Augusta and the largest city, Portland, came open after Democratic Rep. Tom Allen made his bid for Senate official, and the resulting race to file for office was nothing short of a free-for-all.

Of the six candidates to file, former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree is the early front-runner, with polls from her campaign showing her well ahead of the other competitors. One recent survey, from prominent pollster Celinda Lake, shows Pingree leading the field with 38%, while no other candidate cracks double digits.

But Pingree won't have an easy ride in the state's June 10 primary. The former State Senate President and 2002 Senate nominee will face two other ex-Senate leaders, Mike Brennan, who served as majority leader, and Mark Lawrence, who served as President and ran for Senate against Republican Olympia Snowe in 2000. Current State Senator Ethan Strimling is also in the contest, as are physician Steve Meister and attorney Adam Cote, both of whom served in Iraq.

The primary will not be cheap, by any means. Pingree had already raised nearly $800,000 through the end of 2007 and spent $340,000. Lawrence, Strimling and Cote had all raised more than $300,000 as well. To win, Democrats will need to convince the district's large population of liberals to back their cause. In that pursuit, Pingree trekked to Washington on Monday to join about a dozen other challengers from around the country who back a withdrawal from Iraq and allowing lawsuits against telecom companies who cooperated with the government in aiding eavesdropping.

The state's other hot race will be the Senate contest, where Allen faces incumbent Republican Susan Collins. In a state that votes heavily Democratic in presidential contests, Allen is the Democrats' best possible candidate, though two polls in the Fall showed Collins with wide leads.

Only one Republican filed against Second District Rep. Michael Michaud, further confirming that what was once a battleground district -- he won his first race, in 2002, by a 52%-48% margin -- is now safely in the Democrat's hands.