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Rivals Question Pingree’s Poll Results

Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree was 30 points ahead in the five-way Democratic primary in Maine’s 1st Congressional district, according to the latest survey from her pollster — but her opponents are questioning the veracity of the results.

The race to replace Rep. Tom Allen (D), who is running for Senate, has become a free-for-all for Democratic all-stars and reruns in the Pine Tree state.

The Lake Research Partners poll showed Pingree at 41 percent, former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan at 11 percent, state Sen. Ethan Strimling at 10 percent, York County district attorney and 2000 Senate nominee Mark Lawrence at 7 percent and Iraq War veteran Adam Cote at 6 percent.

The Oct. 25-31 poll surveyed 671 likely Democratic primary voters with a margin of error of 3 points. A copy of the memo summarizing the poll’s results was obtained by Roll Call and confirmed by Pingree campaign manager Lisa Prosienski, who lauded the results.

“We are obviously very pleased about what this poll tells us and Chellie Pingree’s position in this race, but it is far too early for anyone to take anything for granted,” Prosienski said.

However, the crowded field of candidates and the timing of the poll — almost a year out from Election Day — left some political observers skeptical of Pingree’s lead. University of Maine political science professor James Melcher said he was surprised to see Pingree that far ahead.

“It’s awful early,” Melcher said. “I think she’s clearly one of the frontrunners and I’d say if anyone were ahead, I’d guess it would be her. But I would be surprised if the race turns out that way.”

Melcher said the two likely frontrunners are Strimling and Pingree, who he says has an advantage because her daughter, a state Senator, has kept the family name identification going and is known for her fundraising abilities. Pingree is a former state Senate Majority Leader and Democratic nominee for Senate in 2002 before spending four years in Washington, D.C., running Common Cause.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a perception that it’s Chellie Pingree against the field,” Melcher said. “I really perceive it as being a three-way race, not a two-way race.”

Pingree’s pollster, Celinda Lake, said even she was surprised by Pingree’s 30-point lead in the poll, which also showed her client with a name identification of 86 percent.

In the Pingree poll, Lake said Brennan received the second-highest name identification score at 61 percent, though a former governor by the same last name represented the district in Congress about 20 years ago. Strimling had 53 percent name identification, Lawrence had 40 percent, and 27 percent had heard of Cote. Pediatrician Steven Meister recently got into the race as well, but not soon enough to be included in the poll.

Pingree’s opponents point to the only independent poll, released by Critical Insights, which showed nearly nine out of 10 Mainers were unable to offer the names of any of the candidates running in the 1st district. The poll, which surveyed 199 likely voters from Oct. 21 to Nov. 5, had a margin of error of 5.8 points and showed just 4 percent were able to name Pingree or Strimling as candidates.

Strimling campaign manager Corey Hascall said the campaign’s internal poll data is similar to the Critical Insights survey.

“Honestly, it’s an internal poll that was paid for by Pingree’s campaign,” said Hascall. “We have a poll, too, and I think it would certainly say something much different. Our poll is much more in line with the only independent poll that’s been made public so far.”

Hascall said the campaign would offer Strimling’s internal polls if Pingree’s campaign released its full results. Strimling campaign consultant Christian Potholm seconded Hascall’s notion that their internal poll results were not in line with Pingree’s survey.

“I can absolutely guarantee you that our polls don’t show that at all,” he said.

Brennan’s manager, Peter Asen, declined to discuss poll strategy or specific results of Brennan’s polls.

“Our own feeling is that Chellie may have a name recognition at this point, seven months out, but it really is a wide-open race,” he said.

Asen was also skeptical that only 25 percent of the electorate was undecided on their candidate with more than six months until the primary. He said history shows that Maine Democratic primary turnout is relatively high in a contested race like this.

“Our campaign strategy recognizes that this is a narrow slice of registered voters who actually vote in the Democratic primary,” he said.

Lawrence’s political director, Marc Malon, said the campaign has hired a pollster, but he refused to discuss their internal results.

“A poll this early, I would question how strong of an indicator it is considering the primary isn’t until June 10,” Malon said. “And there’s a lot of things that will happen between now and then.”

The candidate bringing up the rear in both the head-to-head matchup and name identification attributed his status to never having run for office before, unlike every other candidate in the field.

“We do have low name ID right now, I don’t dispute that,” said Cote political director Emily Boyle. “But we have a much higher name ID than when we started early this summer.”

Although the first district is considered the more Democratic-leaning of Maine’s two seats, the Republican contest also has produced a multiple candidates.

Melcher considered Naval Reserve officer Charlie Summers to be the frontrunner. However, the candidate is not campaigning because he is serving in the Middle East. His wife is running the campaign in the meantime.

Businessman Dean Scontras (R) is making his first bid for the seat, while eyes are still looking to Sen. Susan Collins’ (R-Maine) chief of staff, Steve Abbott, to see if he will get into the race.

Allen is challenging Collins for her Senate seat in 2008.