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Political Brew: Election predictions, fight over utilities, and democracy on the ballot

Our analysts this week are former state senator and mayor of Portland Ethan Strimling and former state senator and Yarmouth town councilor Phil Harriman.

MAINE, USA — The 2022 election is finally here. But some Mainers are already focused on 2023.

Backers of a plan to buy out Central Maine Power and Versant Power in order to create Pine Tree Power, a consumer-owned utility, have submitted more than 80,000 signatures to get the question on the ballot next year

But a business and labor coalition called Maine Affordable Energy has more than 90,000 signatures for a proposal called "No Blank Checks," which would require a statewide vote on any new government debt of over $1 billion.

Phil Harriman said this will be "a very important decision for the future of Maine," and asked, "Do we want to have a government-run utility company, or do we keep it in the hands of private investors who are accountable to the public utilities commission?"

RELATED: Competitive energy referendums could be on the ballot next year

Ethan Strimling said the opponents of Pine Tree Power had to pay signature gatherers to circulate petitions. 

He recalled last election day when he volunteered to gather signatures for a consumer-owned utility, "All you needed to do was say, 'Hey, do you want to get rid of CMP? Sign here,' and people flocked, because CMP's favorables are so low."

This past week, President Joe Biden urged voters to save American democracy from Donald Trump supporters' election-denying lies and the political violence he said they have inspired.

Harriman thinks Biden "has no policy that he can claim has been a resounding success. He's basically saying, 'Go support the Democrats because the other guys are worse.'"

But Strimling believes there is a lot of fear about our democracy. "There are 300 candidates running for federal or statewide office who are flat-out election deniers, and they are the puppets of Donald Trump — and [Biden] understands that."

Our analysts weigh in with predictions about the major races in Maine. Both believe Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree will win re-election over challenger Ed Thelander in CD-1 — the only question is by how much.

RELATED: Meet the candidates for major office on Maine's 2022 ballot

Democrat Strimling said he's sweating it out over CD-2 but believes Rep. Jared Golden will win re-election. Harriman said Poliquin can only win if he gets more than 50 percent on election night, but if it goes to a ranked-choice voting tabulation, he believes Golden will prevail.

Both men think Republicans will win control of the Maine House of Representatives, but according to Strimling, only by a one or two-seat margin.

Harriman believes Republicans can flip the Maine Senate their way, but Strimling said they have to take too many seats so that Democrats will stay in charge of that chamber.

And at the top of the ticket, there is disagreement.

Harriman thinks former Gov. Paul LePage will win a third term but acknowledged "it's a tough hill to climb."

He said it will come down to how enthusiastic his supporters in the second district are in order to overcome Gov. Janet Mills' strength in the first district.

Strimling thinks Mills can overcome Republican charges that she is to blame for inflation and said, "Democrats make a mistake sometimes to not address it or try to minimize it."

But he believes, "What Mills has said is, 'I can't control inflation,' which of course she can't, 'but I can get more money into people's pockets.' And I think people understand and appreciate that."

RELATED: Mills, LePage debate for a final time in the race for governor

Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman will be live in the studio with NEWS CENTER Maine on election night, offering analysis alongside two of our other political analysts, Ray Richardson of WLOB Radio and Democratic activist Betsy Sweet.

Political Brew airs Sundays on NEWS CENTER Maine's Weekend Morning Report.

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