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It’s Pingree Vs. the Boys In Maine

It has all the makings of a bad reality TV show.

This is the true story of seven candidates who chose to run for Congress in Maine’s 1st district. The all-star cast features Maine politicians, past and present, in what could only be a surreal matchup of Democratic giants.

And in what must come as a relief to a crowded field that has been running hard since last fall, voters are now tuning in.

Until recently, former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree (D) was considered the frontrunner. But observers predict only 60,000 people might show up to vote in this low-turnout race and as a result, anything can happen on June 10.

State Sen. Ethan Strimling is considered by many to be Pingree’s chief competition in the Democratic race. A former actor, Strimling represents the next generation of state lawmakers and even serves alongside Pingree’s daughter, the Majority Leader in the state House.

“Our sense is that there’s still a big undecided out there,” said Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for Strimling’s campaign. “We do voter ID calls and stuff, and we’re not getting a sense that people have made up their minds. I think it’s going to be a late decision by many of the voters.”

Former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan, who shares the same last name but has no relation to a famous Maine politician, also has a base in the Portland area. Brennan will likely compete with Pingree and Strimling for votes in Portland, which has the largest concentration of Democratic voters in the southern Maine district.

Meanwhile, Iraq War veteran Adam Cote (D) has also picked up momentum recently thanks to his strong fundraising numbers and recent endorsements from business groups. More conservative on some issues compared to the six other Democrats in the field, Cote has a base in southern York County, which could be to his benefit as three prominent candidates fight for votes in the Portland area.

York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence could spilt his geographical base with Cote. Physician Steve Meister is also running, but most observers see his candidacy as marginal.

Some of the same observers said it’s likely Pingree could carry her frontrunner status to win the nomination by a large margin, as publicly released polls sponsored by her campaign suggest. Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch said he thinks every other candidate in the race sees it as a matchup between him and Pingree, the only woman in the race.

“We take every single one of those boys seriously,” Ritch said. “I’m also convinced that every single one of the candidates see it as a two-person race between them and Chellie.”

But if Pingree does not win in a landslide as she fights for ground in Portland, the nomination could be up for grabs. If Cote has a strong showing in three weeks, it’s possible he could win or neutralize Lawrence in York County, letting the three Portland political giants fight on their home turf.

And like a bad baseball joke, it’s hard to figure out who was on first in this race. Now that they’re in the final stretch of the campaign, almost all of the candidates went on television in the past week.

Pingree’s campaign, flush with $570,000 in cash on hand as of the end of March, went on the airwaves last week and plans to stay on television — both broadcast and cable networks — until June 10.

Cote, who had the second largest campaign war chest with $278,000 on hand, hit the airwaves about the same time with a 60-second biographical spot. His manager, Tom Janenda, said Cote’s campaign was the only one to make a full 60-second buy from last Tuesday until the election on both broadcast and cable.

“Adam is the one political outsider in the race against people with much higher name identification, so we know we would have to be smart and make sure we had the funds to introduce him to the district,” Janenda said.

At the end of March, Strimling had about $220,000 in his bank account, Lawrence had just less than that with $217,000, and Brennan had $91,000 to spend.

The seat is open because Rep. Tom Allen (D) is stepping down to run for Senate, and Democrats expect to keep it in their column come November.

However two Republicans, Navy Reservist Charlie Summers and businessman Dean Scontras, are vying for their party’s nod. Summers, who was the nominee in 2004, just returned from Iraq this month, while Scontras is a political newcomer.

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