Independent Marty Grohman and Republican Mark Holbrook are battling for Republican voters as they take on the challenge of unseating incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

And while the Maine Republican Party’s official stance is to support Holbrook, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has made positive comments about Grohman, who has been endorsed by Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, assistant majority leader in the Maine Senate, and other prominent Republicans.

Grohman, of Biddeford, this week rolled out a list of endorsements by 26 Republicans, including Volk, Sen. Tom Saviello and a number of state senators and representatives. Also endorsing Grohman are Christie Lee-McNally, former Maine campaign manager for President Trump and former executive director of the Maine Republican Party, and Ben Gilman, a onetime staffer for Olympia Snowe when she was a U.S. senator from Maine. Gilman also was the Maine directed the 2008 presidential campaign of the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

On Thursday, Demi Kouzounas, chair of the Maine Republican Party, emailed Republicans to say the party stands “100 percent” behind Holbrook and that Grohman is really a Democrat. Grohman, a state representative, was elected as a Democrat in 2014, but quit the party in 2017.

“We have enough fake ‘independents’ representing Maine in Washington. We need another conservative down there,” Kouzounas wrote.

Holbrook, in a phone interview with the Portland Press Herald, said he has never sought endorsements because “candidates should run on their own merits.” He said most of Grohman’s endorsements are from “squishy” Republicans and not conservatives.

“Marty Grohman is a liberal Democrat,” said Holbrook, of Brunswick. “There’s nothing conservative about him.”

Pingree defeated Holbrook 58-42 percent in 2016, but two years ago there wasn’t an independent candidate or ranked-choice voting, which is new this year in Maine congressional elections. Under the ranked-choice system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one has won more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who had favored the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process continues until two candidates are remaining, with the one with the majority of votes being declared the winner.

The three candidates are competing in the left-leaning 1st Congressional District, where Democrats traditionally have a greater advantage. The Cook Political Report, which forecasts U.S. House races, gives Pingree, who has been in office since 2009, a “solid” chance to retain her seat, putting her in a category with 182 other Democrats considered most likely to win.

Grohman, who is positioning himself as a pro-business moderate, said ranked-choice voting adds a new dynamic to the race, giving candidates like him a “great opportunity” to compete in seats that would otherwise be controlled by a party.

“Ranked-choice voting gives me a better chance to make my case. People from all points on the political spectrum are really responding to my ‘fix not fight’ message,” Grohman said.

However, Grohman does not have a long list of Democratic endorsements, and his most prominent Democratic supporters are probably mayors David Rollins of Augusta and Alan Casavant of Biddeford.

Volk said in a tweet that she supports Grohman because he is “an independent who is willing to work with anyone and everyone to get the job done. We need more of his common-sense leadership in Washington.”

LePage, while not explicitly endorsing Grohman, said in a June speech in Portland that Grohman is “what Maine needs. He’s a good man. He’s doing it for the right reasons.”

But Kouzounas wrote in the Thursday email that Pingree and Grohman are “two sides of the same liberal Democrat coin.”

“One side admits it. The other side pretends it is something else,” she wrote.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: joelawlorph

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