U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has been a harsh critic of President Trump and his policies, including tariffs and their impact on Maine’s valuable lobster industry, which has seen its shipments to China dwindle.
“We’ve got to get out of this trade war. There’s no logic behind it,” Pingree said during a recent campaign visit to The Lobster Co. in Arundel, which ships lobsters to the Asian market.
But her challengers in the 1st Congressional District election hold different views of the president and his policies.
Republican Mark Holbrook is a strong Trump supporter who says the tariffs will ultimately help American businesses.
“I am very sorry the lobster industry is being impacted by this. I believe this is going to be a short-term problem,” he said.
And while independent Martin “Marty” Grohman opposes the tariffs and says the fishing industry should have a “level playing field” to sell its products, he doesn’t see himself as a Trump antagonist across the board.
When it comes to Trump, Grohman says he’s “with him when he’s right, and against him when he’s wrong.”
Grohman and Holbrook both hope to unseat Pingree, a Democrat who is seeking a sixth term in the left-leaning district that represents southern and coastal Maine.
The race has all the ingredients needed to test the widely held belief that the Nov. 6 midterm elections will be a referendum on President Trump.
THE RANKED-CHOICE VOTING EFFECT
It will be the first congressional general election conducted under ranked-choice voting, in which voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If none of the three candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated, and that candidate’s second-place choices will then be tabulated to determine which of the two remaining candidates gets the majority.
Grohman and Holbrook said they believe ranked-choice voting improves their chances of unseating the incumbent. In 2016, when she last ran for re-election, Pingree defeated Holbrook 56 to 40 percent.
“I’m sending Marty Grohman a Christmas card,” Holbrook said of ranked-choice voting. “I think it’s an abomination that violates the Maine Constitution, but I’m pretty sure it will benefit me.”
Grohman said the application of ranked-choice voting should give moderates more of a say in the election.
Grohman, 50, a two-term state representative from Biddeford, left the Democratic Party in 2017. He said the two major parties are creating a hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington, and he doesn’t want to be beholden to a party.
“When I’m out talking to voters, I never hear people say, ‘Marty, I really want to hear more divisive political rhetoric,’ ” Grohman said.
He said he would not caucus with either party if elected and would likely be the only member of Congress to do so. Maine Sen. Angus King is an independent, but he caucuses with the Democrats. Without joining a caucus, Grohman would not be likely to receive any committee assignments.
HEALTH CARE AND BUSINESS
Pingree, 63, said she supports ranked-choice voting, and it gives voters more choices.
“In the end, the voters will decide whether I’m doing a good job representing them. I work for them,” Pingree said.
Pingree, of North Haven, is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and sits on the House Appropriations Committee, as well as subcommittees involving agriculture and the environment. A former organic produce and sheep farmer, Pingree has sponsored a number of agriculture-related bills, including a bill that would reduce household, farm and commercial food waste.
According to Federal Election Commission campaign finance data, Pingree had $686,000 in cash on hand for the period ending June 30, compared to $105,000 for Grohman and $45,000 for Holbrook.
Grohman is running as a moderate – pointing out what he believes are the weaknesses in both parties. Grohman said the Democrats are not pro-business enough, and Republicans are in favor of issues that would hurt people, such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and taking health insurance away from millions.
“People having access to health care is super-important to me,” Grohman said. “I am for continued improvements in our health care system to make it cheaper and more accessible.”
TAX CUTS AND IMMIGRATION
But Grohman said Democrats have often gone too far and make it difficult for businesses to make a profit.
Grohman said, for instance, that he believes the minimum wage in Maine should have been increased to $10, but not $12, and that parts of the Republican tax-reform bill, the corporate tax cuts, should benefit businesses, although he wishes the cuts were more targeted to small-business owners. Grohman, a chemical engineer, started a decking business in Biddeford, which he sold last year.
Holbrook, a psychologist from Brunswick, said he’s in favor of securing federal funds to make improvements to the Portland Water District to reduce sewage overflows into Casco Bay. East End Beach had to close for two days in August after a sewer overflow washed out a pathway and emptied into the bay. The overflow threatened the Peaks to Portland swim race, but the race was held after testing showed bacteria levels had dropped.
“This is a catastrophe waiting to happen. It’s a public health issue that has an impact on thousands of people, including people’s livelihoods,” Holbrook said.
On a recent August campaign stop, Pingree also toured Stonewall Kitchen in York, where she saw workers jarring sauce, jams and other products. John Stiker, Stonewall Kitchen CEO, said one of the biggest issues facing his company is Maine’s workforce shortage, and he would like to see immigration reform to help increase the worker pool in Maine. Trump has gone in the opposite direction with more restrictive immigration policies.
Pingree and Grohman are in favor of immigration reform, while Holbrook supports Trump’s position.
Holbrook, according to his campaign website, supports Trump’s wall on the southern border, and wants to return the United States to the 1920s-era restrictive immigration policies “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity.”