WASHINGTON — National Republican leaders held a fundraiser Wednesday for Maine’s U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Summers, with growing optimism that the seat being vacated by Olympia Snowe could remain Republican.

Notably absent from the event, however, was Snowe, a former employer of Summers.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and members of the Senate’s Republican leadership hosted the fundraiser, which listed donation levels from $250 to $5,000.

Among the notable names on the invitation were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Republican Whip Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s chairman, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

Snowe was listed as a co-host on the invitation, but the retiring senator did not attend. Maine’s U.S. Sen. Susan Collins planned to attend, her staff said.

Speaking outside the well-kept rowhouse on Capitol Hill where the event was held, Cornyn said he was impressed by Summers’ personal story, including his military service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We are hoping for the best. We still have a lot of time to go,” Cornyn said. “We definitely see a path to victory so we are proud to support him.”

Drew Brandewie, spokesman for the Summers campaign, said Wednesday that he was unsure how many Senate leaders planned to attend the fundraiser.

An infusion of money has come into the race from out-of-state groups, and several polls show that independent Angus King’s lead is narrowing, with Summers second.

“Charlie’s message is resonating,” Brandewie said. “The race is tightening.”

Before Summers won the Republican primary in June, Snowe said she would support the party’s nominee — hence her willingness to have her name on fundraising invitations. But she has yet to campaign for her former staffer or donate money to his campaign.

“She wants to be supportive of the Republican ticket,” said Lucas Caron, spokesman for Snowe’s new political action committee, Olympia’s List. “But her focus is not on political campaigning at this time.”

The two apparently have had a chilly relationship since Summers did not endorse Snowe over a tea party-backed challenger in the months before Snowe decided to retire. She was widely expected to win re-election handily.

Some observers say the strained relationship is a political vulnerability that Summers’ opponents may exploit before the campaign ends.

Snowe’s Washington staff said the senator and her husband, former Gov. John McKernan, planned to attend a gala at the Blaine House in Augusta on Wednesday night. The event honored McKernan’s mother, Barbara McKernan, who led the effort to renovate the Blaine House 25 years ago.

Wednesday’s was at least the second Washington fundraiser for Summers. King has also attended at least two fundraisers in the capital.

Washington fundraisers are a delicate dance that many congressional candidates must do as they campaign at home while courting out-of-state donors.

Paul Herrnson, author of the book “Congressional Elections: Campaigning at Home and in Washington,” said that amounts to essentially two campaigns, as candidates search for votes at home and resources elsewhere.

The challenge is especially acute for challengers from less well-to-do areas, he said.

“Candidates go where the money is,” said Herrnson, a professor who’s director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. “The importance of this campaign for resources really can’t be underestimated, because candidates need money to reach out to voters.”

Filings with the Federal Election Commission show that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has spent just shy of $1 million on television ads in Maine targeting King, who has widespread name recognition after two terms as governor. The ads so far do not mention Summers.

Other outside organizations have targeted King, apparently with the goal of boosting the Democratic nominee, Cynthia Dill. That strategy appears aimed at splitting the Democratic and independent vote between King and Dill, to give Summers a better shot at winning with less than a majority vote.

Those ads appear to be working. King’s lead has shrunk considerably in some polls, raising the possibility that Maine’s closely watched Senate race could become competitive after all.

While Dill remains well behind King in third place, she has picked up additional support from members of her own party, according to polling data.

Cornyn said he believes that King’s poll numbers are falling because Mainers are “remembering the facts” about his tenure as governor.

Cornyn specifically mentioned that King entered the office with a surplus and left his successor with a large budget shortfall, a fact that King’s supporters say was due to an economic downturn.

 

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

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