PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree saidWednesday that she decided against running for the U.S. Senate seatvacated by Republican Olympia Snowe, choosing instead to defend herseat in the House. Pingree said it was a difficult decision and that she’s gratefulfor the support she’s received from across Maine and the country.In the end, she concluded that she can best serve the people ofMaine by running for re-election in the U.S. House, she said in astatement. “Although the prospect of running for and possibly serving inthe United States Senate was very exciting, I believe I will bestserve the people of Maine by running for re-election to theHouse,” she said. “There is much at stake in this election, andin the end I had to put the best interests of the state and thecountry ahead of my own.” Snowe, a moderate Republican, announced last week that shewouldn’t seek a fourth term, citing frustrations over partisanpolitics and gridlock in the Senate. Her decision set off a scramble by potential candidates sinceRepublicans and Democrats have only until March 15 to submit 2,000signatures to get on the June primary ballot. If Pingree had run for Senate, she would’ve faced her longtimefriend, popular former Gov. Angus King, who announced he’s runningas an independent, in addition to a Republican challenger. AnotherDemocrat, former two-term Gov. John Baldacci, is weighing whetherto run. Four other Democrats are already in the race, but some saidthey’d consider stepping aside if Pingree chose to run. On the GOP side, previously announced candidate Scott D’Amboisenow faces up to four GOP competitors, including former state Sen.Rick Bennett. They could be joined by Secretary of State CharlesSummers, Attorney General William Schneider and state TreasurerBruce Poliquin.