U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree stopped by the Starbucks in Portland’s Old Port last week to offer support to 15 employees trying to form a union and bargain for higher wages to keep up with housing costs.

Pingree is a longtime supporter of workers’ rights and said it was outrageous that a different employer recently closed the doors of a Maine restaurant after workers there voted to unionize. “The whole reason we have the (National Labor Relations Board) is to protect worker rights from these very tactics,” she said.

Ed Thelander, meanwhile, mingled with construction industry employers last week in West Bath during a career day for high school students.

“They need people in these jobs,” said Thelander, wearing a royal blue Navy SEAL Museum shirt. “We really should be encouraging young folks to look at these careers, not just college.”

Pingree, a Democrat, has represented Maine’s coastal and southern 1st Congressional District since 2009 and hopes to win an eighth term on Nov. 8. Thelander, a Republican former Navy SEAL and a newcomer on the Maine political scene, is campaigning to end that winning streak.

The pair will face each other Wednesday night in a debate sponsored by The Portland Press Herald and Maine Public. It will be livestreamed starting at 8 p.m. at pressherald.com.


Pingree has easily defended her seat over the years. In 2020, she won reelection with 62 percent of the vote, and her district is heavily skewed toward Democrats. A September poll from the University of New Hampshire showed Pingree leading Thelander by 57 percent to 32 percent. Pingree also leads in the money race, with $615,000 cash on hand, according to the most recent federal campaign reports, compared to $154,000 for Thelander.

Rep. Chellie Pingree shakes hands with Patrick Bruce, representative of Workers United, which is attempting to start a union at Starbucks in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Pingree, 67, lives on North Haven, an island in Penobscot Bay. A former state senator, Pingree challenged Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in 2002, but lost that race. Before winning her congressional seat in 2008, Pingree was president and CEO of Common Cause, a national nonprofit with a mission of being a watchdog on government. She has three grown children.

Thelander, 53, served in the Navy for 21 years and participated in U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, according to his campaign website. He lives in Bristol with his wife, Liliana, who immigrated from Venezuela and became an American citizen in 1999. They have three children.

The candidates, like their parties, have opposing views on a wide variety of issues facing Congress and the state.


Pingree supports efforts to pass a federal law restoring access to abortions nationwide in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer overturning Roe v. Wade.


Maine law protects abortion until a fetus is viable, which means between 22 and 24 weeks into a pregnancy. But, Pingree said, if Republicans were to gain control of the Maine Legislature and the Blaine House, that could change.

“It’s easy to be somewhat complacent because of the laws that we have on the books. But elections can change that overnight. I think we need federal protections,” Pingree said.

Numerous states already have outlawed abortion since the ruling and some Republicans in Congress are calling for passage of a national abortion ban. “There’s a lot at stake, and it’s a reminder that it really matters who gets elected,” Pingree said.

Ed Thelander, Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, shakes hands with Hank Kay, regional manager of Asplundh Tree Experts, during a campaign stop at the Maine Construction Career Day in West Bath. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Thelander, by contrast, said he is “pro-life” and does not support a federal law to codify Roe v. Wade and restore abortion rights nationwide.

But he breaks with some in his party on the proposed national abortion ban. If he is elected and the abortion ban proposed by Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, comes up for a vote in the House,  “I would vote no,” Thelander said.

Instead, Thelander said he believes abortion rights should be decided on a state-by-state basis because voters have such diverging views on abortion across the country. “I believe (abortion policy) belongs at the state level because that’s how we get along in America,” Thelander said.



Pingree supported the Biden administration’s ambitious Build Back Better bill, which included investments in paid family leave, child care and pre-kindergarten programs, along with the climate and health initiatives. After that effort failed, Pingree and other Democrats narrowly approved the Inflation Reduction Act in August, which includes $430 billion in new spending, primarily for clean energy and health care.

Chellie Pingree in Portland’s Old Port on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

Pingree said the scaled-down law is still a “game changer” that will make a difference in people’s lives, citing as an example rebates for fuel-efficient heat pumps that will make them more affordable and reduce reliance on heating oil.

Thelander said he’s against measures in the Inflation Reduction Act that tilt the scales too heavily in favor of clean energy at a time when the energy industry may not yet be ready for the transition. For instance, he said he’s against extending tax credits for electric vehicles because he believes the industry may not be ready to produce enough batteries to meet the demand.

“We need to do a smart transition to green energy,” Thelander said.

Thelander said he’s in favor of “pumping more oil” in the United States, but he also does not oppose clean energy. “We need to go greener,” he said.



Thelander has campaigned on law-and-order issues, noting a recent spike in shootings in Portland. In September, Thelander held a news conference in the city saying more needs to be done to support law enforcement.

Ed Thelander, Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Thelander, in an interview, criticized Pingree’s stance against no-knock warrants and qualified immunity for police officers, saying such reforms would hamper police officers’ ability to do their jobs. No-knock warrants permit police officers to enter a property without first announcing their presence. Qualified immunity provides police officers protection from civil lawsuits for actions while on duty.

Thelander said he would be in favor of additional federal money to spend on police training and equipment, especially for small, rural police departments that lack resources. And, he said, “The demonizing of law enforcement needs to stop.”

Pingree said she has always supported increased federal funding for police departments, but also advocates for reforms that include elimination of qualified immunity and no-knock warrants, which have been criticized for leading to unnecessary injuries or deaths when people mistake the police for intruders, for example.

Pingree said the reforms would “strike a balance” between police still having the flexibility to do their jobs and being held accountable when they do wrong.



Election integrity is also on the ballot in November, Pingree said, with some Republicans falsely claiming that Biden “stole’ the 2020 election and was not legitimately elected president.

With former President Donald Trump pumping up disproven election conspiracy theories, “it has given license to every politician to say they were cheated out of the election,” said Pingree, who has supported reforms to prevent future efforts to overturn presidential elections.

Thelander is distancing himself from some Republicans and not espousing conspiracy theories that falsely claim the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.

“Yes, Joe Biden is president of the United States,” Thelander said. “The country needs to heal and move on. I would not bother running if I thought it was rigged.”

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