Drawing strong support from every corner of the state, incumbent Sen. Susan Collins stormed to a commanding victory over challenger Chellie Pingree on Tuesday night.
With 81 percent of the state’s 652 precincts reporting, unofficial results tabulated by the Bangor Daily News showed Collins leading Pingree with 58.5 percent of the vote to Pingree’s 41.5 percent.
Collins bested Pingree in all of the state’s 16 counties, including Pingree’s home county of Knox.
Pingree conceded the race shortly after midnight Wednesday.
Collins complimented Pingree for running a strong campaign and told her cheering supporters that she was looking forward to returning to represent Maine in Washington for the next six years.
“I’m just delighted with our victory,” said Collins. “I think the voters have spoken tonight. I’m really happy with the outcome.”
Pingree was gracious in defeat and complimented Collins on her campaign. She thanked her supporters and urged them not to lose their idealism and to continue to work for issues they based the campaign upon.
“We are not going to be able to say that we are the winners tonight,” said Pingree. “We’re going to wish her [Collins] the best of luck and we’re counting on her to do a good job in Washington.”
Collins will be taking a victory tour from Portland to Lewiston to Bangor in her campaign bus on Wednesday to thank her supporters.
The campaign pitted the first-term Republican U.S. senator from Caribou against the Democratic former Maine Senate majority leader from North Haven.
In her re-election bid, the 49-year-old Collins had working in her favor the benefit of incumbency, name recognition and a six-year history of returning to the state each weekend to meet her constituents and attend political events.
“I think that she’s done a good job for the state of Maine,” said Belfast resident Archie Gaul after casting his vote for Collins on Tuesday afternoon. “I think she’s an independent thinker. She’s a proven commodity, in my estimation.”
Pingree, 47, of North Haven, though well-known around Augusta for her eight years of service in the Maine Senate, realized early on that she had a lot of ground to cover if she wanted to catch up to Collins.
Pingree made a name for herself in her final term in the state Senate with the passage of Maine Rx, legislation that allowed the state to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. The drug companies have challenged that legislation.
The Collins-Pingree campaign was waged on the issues of health care, the cost of prescription drugs, taxes and the role the federal government should play on behalf of Maine residents.
Public anxiety over the volatile situation in Iraq also played prominently in the campaign.
Early on, the race was identified as one of about a dozen Senate seats in the country considered tossups.
The money poured in from both parties, with Collins spending about $3.7 million and Pingree about $3.1 million, making the Senate race one of the most expensive in the state’s history.
Public opinion polls taken early in the contest showed Pingree within reach of Collins. But things changed as the campaign geared up over the summer when televised advertisements questioning Collins’ record on health care and prescription drugs were portrayed by Republicans as negative attacks on the senator.
The Collins camp retaliated by running their own series of ads accusing Pingree of going negative. Those ads blanketed the airwaves and may have played a part in subsequent polling results that saw Pingree’s unfavorability rating rise from single-digit numbers in September to 23 percent in a poll taken just two weeks ago. In the same October poll, Collins had an unfavorability rating of 17 percent.
Collins never gave ground to her challenger. Her field organization had been in place since her election six years ago and tended to the home front while the senator remained in Washington. Collins returned home to campaign on weekends but it was not until Congress recessed in mid-October that she was able to mount a full-time re-election effort.
Pingree announced her run for the Senate in the spring of 2001 and began campaigning almost immediately. Much of her campaign was fought at the grass-roots level. Her paid staff of about 100 was bolstered by more than 6,000 volunteers. The Pingree campaign knocked on 250,000 doors during the run up to Election Day.