Waterville Mayor Paul LePage surged ahead of his competitors Tuesday night to emerge at the top of a seven-way Republican primary in the Maine governor’s race.

Les Otten, who had held second place for much of the night, conceded around 11 p.m.

“Tonight was not a win for any particular group. It was not a win for any particular ideology or any particular faction. Tonight was a win for the state of Maine and our future,” said LePage in a statement. “Now, having been homeless at the age of 11, I am on the doorstep to the Blaine House in Augusta. This is the story of the American dream.”

LePage, 61, led the Republican pack with 38 percent of the vote, with 71 percent of precincts reporting just after midnight. Otten followed with 17 percent and Peter Mills with 14 percent.

The rest of the field was Steve Abbott with 13 percent, Bill Beardsley with 10 percent, Bruce Poliquin with 4 percent and Matt Jacobson with 3 percent.

With 95 percent of returns counted by Wednesday afternoon, the only candidates who saw a change in their share of the vote were Mills, with 15 percent, and Beardsley, with 9 percent.

Maine GOP chairman Charlie Webster said he thought LePage came out on top because the “regular people relate to a guy who’s like them.”

“People in the state of Maine are pretty upset about what’s happened in Augusta for 30 years,” said Webster. “Paul LePage proved he could fix things in Waterville.”

LePage will face Democrat Elizabeth Mitchell in the November general election, and as many as three independents, including Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth, Kevin Scott of Andover and Shawn Moody of Gorham, who have qualified to be on the ballot. Moody said he’ll announce this morning if he’s running.

Otten said he had called LePage and had “given him my wholehearted support in his run to be the next governor of Maine.”

The Republican primary was an expensive proposition this year. Candidates spent roughly $4.5 million in the race.

LePage only spent $180,254, according to campaign finance reports. Only Jacobson, in last place, spent less.

The big spender in the campaign was Otten, at $2.3 million. Otten raised about $122,550 and loaned his campaign $2.47 million.

Jacobson conceded early, stepping to the podium at Binga’s Stadium in Portland to the cheers of about 40 supporters.

“I think it is pretty clear we are not going to climb out of this hole,” he said. 

Mills told the crowd at his Portland campaign office that he was proud of the work his team did.

His campaign manger, Marc Pitman, said he felt like he was on the TV show “Survivor,” “and we just got blind-sided at the tribal council.”
Abbott called LePage to concede before 11 p.m.

“I think he really ran a terrific campaign. He should be proud of the work he’s done and proud of the work his supporters have done,” Abbott said.

“Regardless of the outcome, we’re going to feel it’s a job well done,” said Michael Pajak, Beardsley’s campaign manager.

Poliquin, of Georgetown. said the results were disappointing.

“The good part is the dialogue in this state has changed for the better. We’re now talking about being fiscally responsible,” said Poliquin.

Cutler said he’s called both Mitchell and LePage with congratulations. He said the Republican and Democratic parties “reverted to their old ideological habits in a year when the vast majority of Maine voters couldn’t care less about party labels.” He noted that voter turnout was low and that the thousands who stayed home essentially voted for “none of the above.”

Scott, another independent candidate, had similar sentiments.

“The Republicans picked a fiscal conservative with a conservative social message. The Democrats picked a true social liberal from the established political class,” said Scott in a statement. “In my view, it seems like Maine’s best choice for governor will be a truly independent, fiscally conservative candidate with moderate stands on social issues.”

Staff Writers Meredith Goad, David Hench, Jenn Menendez and John Richardson contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: mwickenheiser@pressherald.com

9:30 p.m.

At 9:30 p.m., with 5 percent of 596 precincts reporting, Paul LePage was leading in the Republican primary with 33 percent of the vote.

He was followed by Les Otten with 21 percent of the vote, and Steve Abbott with 15 percent. LePage, Otten and Abbot had each received 1,299, 807 and 585 votes, respectively.

That was with 29 of 596 precincts reporting.

8:27 p.m.

Polls have closed, and the field of seven Republican gubernatorial candidates will soon narrow to one.

The Republicans vying to be their party’s pick in November are Steve Abbott of Portland, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins; former Husson University president Bill Beardsley of Ellsworth; Matt Jacobson, president of Maine & Co.; Waterville Mayor Paul LePage; state Sen. Peter Mills; entrepreneur and former ski executive Les Otten of Greenwood and developer Bruce Poliquin of Georgetown.

Candidates crisscrossed the state on Election Day, seeking to impress voters in the waning hours of what’s been a tight race with some old-fashioned retail campaigning. Following the closing of the polls, the candidates planned parties at various campaign offices, hotels, restaurants and country clubs. Abbott, Otten, Poliquin, Jacobson and Mills were all in the Portland area, while LePage and Beardsley were in Waterville and Ellsworth, respectively.

The race remained impossible to call right through Election Day, with no real breakout candidate emerging from the Republican pack of seven.

In a Pan Atlantic SMS Group poll released June 1, 47 percent of Republican “likely voters” remained undecided when they were called between May 21 and May 29.

The poll showed Otten with 17 percent of those surveyed planning on voting or leaning toward voting for him. Otten also led in a name recognition poll done several weeks earlier, likely a reflection of the intense advertising campaign that he began running months ahead of the other candidates. Otten was followed by LePage, with 10.3 percent of those polled favoring him; Mills at 8.4 percent; Abbott at 8.3 percent; Beardsley at 3.6 percent; Poliquin at 3.3 percent and Jacobson at 2 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 5.7 percent. The margin of error, combined with the large percentage of undecided voters, made the race anyone’s to win.

The Republican primary was an expensive proposition this year. Candidates spent roughly $4.5 million on their race. That included more than $2.3 million by Otten. Otten raised about $122,550 for his campaign and loaned it $2.47 million.

Poliquin raised $737,700, including $650,000 he gave the campaign, and spent $711,00. Mills, running as a Clean Election candidate, got $600,000 in public money to spend for the primary, and spent most of it. Abbott raised $344,529, loaned his campaign $87,300, and spent $333,000. Beardsley had a total of $314,082 raised, including contributions he made to the tune of $250,000. He spent roughly $252,000. LePage collected $165,000 and loaned his campaign $111,000. He spent about $152,000. And Jacobson had total receipts of $182,000, including a $20,000 loan he made to the campaign. Jacobson spent roughly $157,000.