Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is regarded as perhaps one of the safest bets in the upcoming elections. The U.S. House Representative for Maine's 1st District is seeking re-election for a third term in Congress next month, and according to one observer, her prospects look very good.
University of New England Political Science Professor Brian Duff says unless Pingree commits a serious error in the next few weeks, she should be heading back to Washington next year.
"It would take a scandal; it would take saying something really unexpected at the debates," Duff says. And that, he says, would be a huge surprise. "Chellie Pingree seems to be a disciplined candidate, she's done well in her previous campaigns, and she doesn't seem prone to major slipups."
In a congressional district regarded as solidly liberal - albeit with pockets of GOP support - Chellie Pingree seems to have the right credentials. She came to Maine from her native Minnesota as a teenager in the early 70s, as part of the back-to-the-land movement.
After graduating from the College of The Atlantic in Bar Harbor, she and her then-husband ran a small farm on the island of North Haven, where she also established North Island Yarn, a cottage industry of local knitters, selling produce nationwide.
Pingree frequently references her small business and farming background when talking about these issues on the political stage.
Like many Democrats, she's pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage. She supports clean energy options above nuclear power and fossil fuels.
But on some issues Pingree's views go beyond the party platform. On foreign policy, for example, as well as strongly opposing the Iraq war, she wants to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan immediately.
"I'm sorry to say, that while our soldiers have done an incredible job, they've made our country proud and they've fought extremely well, it's been a tremendous cost to this country and one that we'll be years and years recovering from," she says.
On healthcare, Pingree voted for the Affordable Care Act, but ideally, she says, she'd like to see a single-payer system.
"I've found that it's an issue that people ask me about quite a bit here in Maine, whether it's expansion of Medicare - Medicare for all - or single-payer healthcare," she says. "Even doctors and practitioners are now saying, 'Don't make us operate under a system that's more complicated, that deals even more with insurance companies and burdensome paperwork, why can't we have a simpler system?'"
Pingree says the country's budgetary situation would be helped significantly by the repeal of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. "If we eliminated the tax breaks on people earning over $250,000 a year, that would generate a trillion dollars, which is exactly what Congress says it has to make up in this period," she says.
People affected by the this proposal would definitely include Donald Sussman, the wealthy financier and philanthropist Pingree married last year. As well as being a hedge fund manager, Sussman is also majority owner of Maine Today Media, which operates a number of newspapers in the state, including the Portland Press Herald.
Pingree admits that being married to a billionaire has changed the way some people see her. "It's definitely changed my image and it's been the topic of conversation in the last couple of campaigns, particularly once my husband decided to buy the newspaper, which I'm not sure was necessarily a good idea for someone in politics, but it's been great for the community," she says. "But the truth is it hasn't changed me."
"I think at the end of the day. what you really look at with someone is, 'Whose side are they on?'" says Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, which has endorsed Chellie Pingree since she entered Congress. Schlobohm says the Sussman connection does not detract from Chellie's record as someone who looks out for working Maine families.
"She's had years of a record where she's stood by working people, where she's fought for better-paying jobs in the state, where she's tried to make sure that seniors have affordable drugs, or she's taken on the big banks on Wall Street to try and make sure we have an economy that works for ordinary people," Schlobohm. So her record is crystal, crystal clear - time and time again she's been on the side of hard-working families in the state."
So, does Chellie Pingree have any chinks in her armor? Any weaknesses that Republican challenger Jon Courtney might look to exploit in his efforts to detach Pingree from her democratically-inclined constituents? Again, UNE political science professor Brian Duff:
"The best plan for him is to paint her as a sort of unrepentent liberal," says UNE Political Science Professor Brian Duff, "and to highlight some of the positions that Chellie Pingree has taken that the average Mainer might think is a little too far left."
Pingree's support of a single-payer healthcare system, for example, might turn off some voters, says Duff, as might her opposition to the 2010 Afghanistan troop surge.
Chellie Pingree and her opponent Jon Courtney will be duking it out person-to-person later this week. Tune in to MPBN radio or MPBN television Thursday at 8 pm for the Your Vote 2012 First Congressional District debate.
You can submit questions for the candidates here.