Alfond fires latest salvo in bitter primary battle for Maine Senate seat

Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland announced today that he has endorsed Rep. Ben Chipman in the three-way primary election for Alfond’s Portland Senate seat.

Chipman is locked in a highly contentious primary battle with Rep. Diane Russell and Dr. Charles Radis. The winner of the primary is likely to replace Alfond, who is term limited out of office, in the heavily Democratic district. Alfond condemned Russell’s campaign and said he has gone public because of it.

“The actions by Rep. Russell and her campaign are beyond the pale,” wrote Alfond in a news release. “Rep. Russell’s campaign and her allies have stooped to the worst kind of political tactics. Gutter politics are not how we do things in Portland and it makes our democracy weaker when we disrespect Maine voters like this.”

Alfond did not detail what he meant by “gutter politics” but this primary campaign has featured dueling complaints to the Maine Ethics Commission and Russell attacking Chipman in a recent campaign flier for switching political parties — twice — and for his work collecting signatures in 2009 against a Democratic-backed tax plan. Chipman won his House seat as an independent but enrolled as a Democrat last year.

“I’ve never endorsed in a legislative primary and I had every intention to stay out of this one,” wrote Alfond. “But over the last week, the actions of one campaign made me realize that I have to speak up.”

Russell, who is termed out of her House seat, has stacked up some endorsements from lawmakers as well, including from seasoned Democratic Sens. Bill Diamond of Windham and Linda Valentino of Saco.

“Diane has many fine qualities but it’s her real grit that makes her one of the most effective legislators in Augusta,” said Diamond in an endorsement statement.

Russell has also been endorsed by the Maine Education Association, according to her campaign. For the Senate campaign, she raised $89,000, which the Maine Ethics Commission staff said recently was among the highest amounts ever this early in a political race.

This down-and-dirty campaign — at least as waged by Chipman and Russell — illustrates the high stakes involved. The winner will have a clear path to representing the heart of Maine’s biggest city in the next Senate.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.