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Election Analysis: Mills, Dems 'rewarded' by Maine voters

In a race where Maine Dems could have lost the Blaine House or the Legislature, UMaine Political Science Department Chair Dr. Mark Brewer said they performed well.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Election Day is over, and now the analysis of Maine's preliminary election results begins with Republicans and Democrats trying to figure out what worked and what didn't. 

Dr. Mark Brewer is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Maine. He told NEWS CENTER Maine Democrats had a very good night on Tuesday. 

Democrats declare victory

"I think the most obvious takeaway is it was a very good night for Democrats," he said. 

Not only were Maine Democrats successful in keeping the Blaine House, but they held both the state House and Senate as well. 

And while Brewer suspected Gov. Janet Mills would win a second term, the double-digit victory over her opponent, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, surprised him. 

"I'm not surprised she won. I thought all along she'd win a second term. I wouldn't for the life of me have predicted double digits," he said. 

Preliminary election results from Tuesday showed Mills winning reelection, 57 percent to 42 percent. 

Brewer told NEWS CENTER Maine he expected her victory to be by a narrower margin, between three and five percent. 

Credit: AP
Former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, marches in the State of Maine Bicentennial Parade, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Lewiston, Maine. LePage faces Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in the general election. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

LePage's future

When it comes to LePage's political future, Brewer said it's something the former governor and the Maine GOP will have to think over. 

Both the gubernatorial race and the second congressional district should be available to Republicans, Brewer said, but in the 2022 general election, neither of those races worked out terribly well for the GOP. 

The race between U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, is going to a ranked-choice runoff, with results expected on Tuesday. 

Would the gubernatorial or CD-2 races be best served by Poliquin or LePage returning in the future? "My sense is the answer is 'no' on both of those," Brewer said. But that doesn't mean LePage would come to the same conclusion, he added. 

And it doesn't mean LePage would be limited to running for governor. He could run for a U.S. Senate seat. 

"I think that's an open question at this point," Brewer said. 

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is up for reelection in 2024, should he choose to run again. 

Comparing 2022 to 2018

Looking back at 2018, then-Republican gubernatorial challenger Shawn Moody lost to Mills by a smaller margin than LePage did this year. 

In 2018, Mills defeated Moody 51 percent to 43 percent. That's a difference of eight points compared to the 15 points between Mills and LePage on Tuesday. 

In 2018, Mills was running for an open seat, and she didn't have a track record as governor. This year, she did, Brewer said. The department chair said most Mainers thought Mills did a pretty good job as governor, getting relatively positive remarks for handling COVID and Maine's economy. 

"It's doing relatively well compared to national conditions," Brewer said.

Inflation and prices for food and energy are haunting people, but most Mainers didn't lay that at the foot of the governor, he said. 

Voters rewarded Mills for a job well done. She didn't have that in 2018, and that made the biggest difference, according to the department chair. 

Credit: AP
FILE - This combination of file photos shows Republican former Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2017, left, and Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in 2018, right, in Maine. Golden said Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, that he will file a proposal to withhold federal money from a California conservation group that has recommended seafood consumers avoid buying lobster. The move from the Democrat came a week after a spat with Poliquin about support for Maine's lobster industry. (AP Photos/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

The congressional districts

While Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree's victory in the first congressional district over Republican Edwin Thelander may not have come as too big of a surprise, the race in CD-2 was always going to be much closer. 

"I think with [independent Tiffany] Bond's presence in that race, it was always guaranteed to go to a runoff," Brewer said. 

The department chair told his students Mainers were almost certainly not going to have the results of CD-2 until after Tuesday. He told NEWS CENTER Maine the chance of Golden or Poliquin getting a majority of the votes on the first ballot was unlikely. 

"Golden's got a lead, maybe a little bigger than some expected. It's gonna go to a ranked-choice runoff. When that's done, it's virtually guaranteed Golden will be the winner. It played out more or less the way I thought it would," he said.

Credit: NEWS CENTER Maine

The Maine Legislature

Democrats held control of both the Maine House and Senate after Tuesday. Brewer said prior to Tuesday, Maine Republicans thought they had good chances to take one or both legislative chambers. They were optimistic. 

The department chair said he would have given them 50/50 odds of success. 

“The fact that they didn’t even come close is the biggest surprise for me," Brewer said. "I thought the margins in both chambers would be tighter than they were previously. That just didn't happen." 

As for why, Brewer said it's possible the positive marks a lot of Mainers gave to Mills trickled down to candidates for state office. It's also possible the overturning of Roe v. Wade, leaving the question of abortion rights to the states, also impacted Maine House and Senate races. 

"We all know Maine tends to be pro-choice on the whole," Brewer said. 

Democrats are more likely to ensure abortion rights will be protected, the department chair said. 

"I suspect that played a big role, too," Brewer said. 

He added, "Democrats shouldn't have been able to hold the margins they did. It should have been tight. They should have been losing this to Republicans. It didn't happen."  

Reaction from Democrats, Republicans

On Wednesday, Democrats released a statement that read, in part: 

"Yesterday, Mainers voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. Our candidates surpassed pundits’ expectations and are ready to go back to work to fight for Maine people – in Augusta and in Washington, D.C." 

Following Tuesday's election results, LePage issued the following statement on Twitter: 

"I accept the results of yesterday’s election. I continue to have grave concerns for the people of Maine over the need for home heating oil relief and efforts to handle inflation. I urge the Governor to take action."

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