With the November 2 election less than three weeks away, Republican Dean Scontras, though still trailing, has made a seven-point gain on the incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree in Maine's First Congressional District.

Polling data released Wednesday put Pingree at 48 percent support compared to Scontras' 33 percent. This is the first time that Pingree has polled lower than 50 percent and the first time that her opponent has polled higher than 30 percent. In the preceding wave of polling, conducted in late September, Pingree had posted 54 percent support to Scontras' 26 percent.

The poll was prepared for Maine Today Media by Critical Insights, a Portland-based polling firm. The poll surveyed 605 registered Maine voters who described themselves as likely to vote in the upcoming election. Critical Insights is confident that if they repeated the poll 100 times, the results would be within 4 percent of those reported 95 out of those 100 times.

The most contentious issue between the candidates regards what constitutes an appropriate level of federal government involvement.

Scontras told the Portland Press Herald that "Everything I hear is about the contrast between my message, which is less government, and [Pingree's] message which is more government."

Associate Professor of Government Michael Franz described the congressional races as "tighter than they should be."

Pingree, the incumbent, is an accomplished legislator who was elected to her first term as representative two years ago and has [according to Franz] "fit right into the role of a congressperson very nicely."

She had previously served four terms in the Maine State Senate, including four years as Maine Senate majority leader.

Pingree has been a legislative defender of health care reform, veterans' benefits and alternative energy.

"There's no reason for people to be upset with her but for the fact that she's associated with a liberal policy agenda," said Franz. She has recently come under fire from the Maine GOP for using the private jet belonging to her fiance, billionaire hedge-funder S. Donald Sussman, to fly to New York last month.

Pingree spokesperson Willy Ritch told the Portland Press Herald that none of the flights were for campaign purposes.

Scontras works in the private sector as the co-owner of the Eliot-based alternative energy company RA Power Solutions. In 2005, he returned to Maine from Washington, D.C., where he had worked in technology.

Steve Robinson '11, the TA to Professor of Government Christian Potholm's Maine Politics course, co-president of Bowdoin College Republicans and a native Mainer, described Scontras as "a young, energetic Republican." Scontras has said he would support an extension of the Bush tax cuts for all income groups and would ultimately like to replace the income tax with a flat tax on consumption.

Said Robinson, "It will be interesting to see if this kind of libertarian, Tea Party movement that [could sweep Republican Maine gubernatorial candidate Paul] LePage into office will have similar effects on Scontras' campaign."

Brunswick is right in the middle of Maine's First Congressional District, which spans five counties along the coast from the border with New Hampshire and runs up north of Augusta.

In Maine's Second Congressional District, which comprises the rest of the state, the Wednesday poll shows incumbent Democrat Michael Michaud holding steady at 43 percent and Republican opponent Jason Levesque at 30 percent. These results are statistically indistinct from the previous wave of polling which held Michaud at 44 percent and Levesque at 32 percent.

Nonetheless, Franz described the races as "more interesting than they would have been in another year."

"They may be a little tighter than they should be in the sense that Pingree should be cruising to victory and Michaud is a long-serving incumbent," he said. "In many ways they should be little sleepy congressional races...[but] given the political environment, both candidates have at least some pressure on their heels."

Because Maine's results are among the earliest to come in, the outcome of its congressional elections will influence projections for the rest of the country. "If, for example, Pingree and Michaud lose...the ballgame is really over for the Democrats because they're going to lose in all these other marginal places too," Franz said.