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Seacoast Online - Candidate Touts War Experience, Broad Appeal

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Seacoast Online - Candidate Touts War Experience, Broad Appeal

To say that Charlie Summers has run an unconventional campaign would be a bit of an understatement. In fact, although he's been a declared Republican candidate for Maine's 1st Congressional District for nearly a year, he's been unable to campaign until just a couple of weeks ago.

Summers, a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserves, declared his intention to run, and was immediately deployed to Iraq last July, where he worked with provincial reconstruction teams as a public affairs officer.

Military rules prohibit all campaign activities by active duty service members, so he handed the campaign to his staff and his wife, Ruth, and headed to Baghdad. On May 10, his official duties ended, giving him exactly a month to campaign before next Tuesday's primary.

"Ruth met me at the airport, gave me a hug and handed me a schedule," Summers said with a laugh.

Summers, long known in Republican circles in Maine, has a varied political resume. A former state senator from Scarborough, he joined the staff of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, in 1995 as her state director and later became New England regional director of the Small Business Administration.

Summers' politics are not unlike that of his former boss, Snowe. A moderate Republican, he is fiscally conservative but a social moderate who has, for instance, long been pro-choice on abortion.

His only primary rival for the GOP seat is Dean Scontras of Eliot, who has fashioned a campaign that appeals decidedly to more conservative Republicans. Summers said he thinks it's important to have a broader appeal.

"When you serve public office, you serve everybody. I can appeal to all Republicans. I try to deal with issues on an individual basis and to stand for solutions, not get bogged down by ideology," he said.

Obviously, his experience in Iraq has shaped his thoughts on the war. His job there was to escort international media to the 28 provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq, which he termed the "mini-Peace Corps."

"It was a great experience," he said, "to see the Iraqi people working toward their future."

He gives credit directly to Gen. David Petraeus, who "has worked hard to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people."

Summers favors keeping troop levels at current strength for the next 12 to 18 months. "Our troops need to continue to provide security but, just as importantly, train Iraqi security forces. Once they take full control, we can pull back and out."

At the same time, he said, he favors "redoubling our diplomatic efforts" to involve all western nations, "who all have a stake in the Middle East." Finally, he said there should be a "peace surge" of Peace Corps volunteers to help the Iraqi people rebuild their country.

Summers has also made energy independence a focal point of his campaign. Summers said "everything at our disposal has to be thrown at this," including alternative sources such as wind and solar power, more nuclear power and drilling in the United States wherever oil is found, such as off the Florida coast and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

On this last point, he differs from both Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who have both fought against ANWR drilling. He said it's possible with today's technology to disturb only several thousand acres of the million acres comprising the refuge and it needs to be on the table.

He supports ending corn subsidies for ethanol, and pursuing more plentiful alternatives such as switchgrass and timber residue.

On the tax side, he supports a $10,000 tax credit and 100 percent loan deductible similar to house loans for the purchase of hybrid vehicles. He also supports tax credits for such things as solar panels and home energy efficiency measures.

"The fact is, we have to focus our energy and the effort of the nation on energy independence just as (President) Kennedy focused the nation on putting a man on the moon," he said. "Those who don't like green alternatives, those who don't like nuclear — they all have to come to the table and give a bit here. The sooner we can be off foreign oil, the better we'll be."

On health care, he said he is against single-payer or universal health care initiatives, but agrees something has to be done to deal with spiraling costs.

He said if he is elected to Congress, he will sponsor two bills. One will be a small business health plan, allowing businesses to form an association so they can, as a national group, get the best price.

The second will be a bill to make the cost of insurance 100 percent deductible. "This will be a lot cheaper than creating another government bureaucracy." He called this a "big change," saying people will say "it may cost me $2,400 year for insurance, but I can deduct that."

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