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Portland chamber stays out of Senate race

Godfrey Wood wants the public to know that the Portland Regional Chamber isn't taking a side in the hotly contested U.S. Senate race in Maine.
After the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Republican U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Summers and criticized independent candidate Angus King for his spending during his time as governor, the Portland Regional Chamber CEO issued a reminder that the Portland Regional Chamber is not connected with the U.S. Chamber.6-15-summers-bbq-1
"I just wanted to clarify it because there's been so much publicity around the U.S. Chamber's role in the state of Maine," Wood said Thursday.
In a newsletter on the Portland chamber's website (http://www.portlandregion.com/content/ceo-letter), Wood wrote that the Portland chamber will not be endorsing a candidate in the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Maine. The seat is opening up as longtime Republican incumbent Olympia Snowe is not seeking re-election.
Wood also explained that the local chamber had no hand in the U.S. Chamber's recent political activities or its endorsements.
"The U.S. Chamber and the Portland Regional Chamber are legally and financially separate entities," Wood wrote in a newsletter article. "The PRC has no voice on the U.S. Chamber Board of Directors, or on their policy positions, and vice versa."
The Portland Regional Chamber, as a member of the U.S. Chamber, pays $400 in yearly dues, Wood added, but he said, "We are assured that none of this goes toward political campaigns."
Summers, of Scarborough, is running against King of Brunswick, Democrat Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth and unaffiliated candidates Steve Woods, Danny Dalton and Andrew Ian Dodge.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, described as the world's largest business federation and the biggest of all the state and local chambers and industry associations, stirred up a political back-and-forth when it issued its ad in July criticizing King. The ad came on the heels of the U.S. Chamber endorsing Summers on July 25.
"We've had questions about it, particularly in light of the U.S. Chamber endorsement of Charlie Summers and the publicity around their TV campaign which has been targeting Angus King," Wood said. "I've had a couple of members question it, 'Does this mean we're endorsing Angus King?' And I said, 'No.'"
Chip Morrison,  the executive director of the Lewiston-Auburn-based Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce, said he disapproved of the U.S. Chamber's ad and that it was not reflective of how Maine business people felt about King, according to a press release from the King campaign, which mounted a response to the ad, citing the support of businesspeople in Maine.
The Maine Small Business Coalition has issued a statement making clear that the U.S. Chamber does not represent its views, and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce also distanced itself from the U.S. Chamber, according to the King campaign.
John Porter, president and chief executive officer of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, circulated a newsletter clarifying that chamber's independence from the U.S. Chamber because "members should know we don't normally endorse candidates for office," he said.
"We don't do candidate endorsements," Porter said Thursday.
Wood said the Portland Regional Chamber plans to host a candidate debate in the fall, but in the newsletter, he wrote, "We do not stand with or against any candidate."
"We are nonpartisan here, we do sometimes endorse candidates for local ofice if it's mayor, or town council," Wood said in an interview.
"We don't endorse any candidates for national office, it's not something we do," Wood said.
Summers embraced the U.S. Chamber's support, issuing a press release in which he said he was "thrilled to have their endorsement."
In the 2010 elections, 236 of the 276 Chamber-endorsed candidates were elected, according to a U.S. Chamber press release. This year, King is considered the front-runner in the race for Senate. Snowe has not endorsed anyone.

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