WASHINGTON — Maine Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney said Monday that he is unlikely to run for Congress this year against Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, which would leave Republicans searching for a credible candidate.

Courtney, a Republican from Springvale, said in a phone interview that while he hasn’t ruled it out, “I am not moving in that direction. It is probably pretty unlikely.”

Courtney, who cannot run for the state Senate this year because of term limits, has been weighing a congressional bid for months.

A big reason he is unlikely to run is the wealth of Pingree’s husband, billionaire hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman, and the possibility that the couple could spend a lot of personal money in Pingree’s run for a third term, Courtney said.

“I don’t see a pathway to running a credible challenge at this time,” said Courtney, who owns a dry-cleaning business and commercial rental properties. “I don’t have the personal financial resources to be able to get in a battle like that.”

Courtney has been viewed as the most credible potential challenger to Pingree.

Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, is running against Rep. Mike Michaud in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

The 2nd District is more rural and conservative than the 1st District, and redistricting last year shifted several thousand Republican voters into the 2nd District. Pingree’s seat has not been listed by pundits as one to watch in the 2012 elections.

“Even with Courtney, Republicans were going to have a tough time defeating Pingree,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “Without him, that window of opportunity probably closes a little further. It’s very tough to see Pingree losing at this stage in the cycle.”

Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said Monday that he is “hopeful that someone will come forward” to run against Pingree.

Webster named two possible GOP candidates: Patrick Calder, a merchant mariner from Portland; and Mark Gartley of Westbrook, a former Maine secretary of state and Democratic 2nd District congressional candidate in the 1970s who became a Republican in the early ’90s.

“If you find the right candidate who appeals to blue-collar workers, you can beat Chellie Pingree,” Webster said.

Gartley, a retired businessman, said Monday that he isn’t planning to run. He, too, cited concerns about Pingree’s ability to spend personal money on the race.

Calder said he will make his final decision within about a month. He said that if he did challenge Pingree, he would take a leave of absence from his job, which requires him to be gone half the year in 10-week stretches.

Calder said, “I know I would be an incredible long shot, but it is important that people be given an alternative” to Pingree.

Kate Simmons, Pingree’s campaign manager, said Pingree is not focused on who might run against her.

“Regardless of who her opponent is, she is focused on the work Maine people need most – strengthening the economy and creating jobs,” Simmons said.

Pingree raised more than $1.2 million for her 2010 campaign, when she beat Republican Dean Scontras with 57 percent of the vote.

When she first won her congressional seat, in 2008, with 55 percent of the vote, Pingree raised more than $2.2 million for her campaign, which included a multi-candidate primary.

Sussman and others in financial companies he owns, such as Paloma Partners, pumped nearly $180,000 into Pingree’s campaigns in 2008 and 2010, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Pingree acknowledged in an interview last year, after she and Sussman got married in June, that she would have access to much more cash for her race this year. A candidate’s personal funds aren’t subject to federal limits for individual campaign contributions.

However, Pingree said then that she didn’t go into the race expecting to use personal money.

“I have always been a pretty prolific fundraiser, so I am always prepared to raise as much money as I need to take on a challenger,” Pingree said.

Campaign finance reports for the last quarter of 2011 aren’t due in to the Federal Election Commission until Jan. 31. As of Sept. 30, Pingree’s campaign had $114,644 on hand, after raising $73,723.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

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Twitter: MaineTodayDC