WATERVILLE — Mayor Paul LePage celebrated his gubernatorial campaign tonight in a colorful, raucous party at Cancun Mexican Restaurant downtown with friends and supporters from all over the state.

LePage maintained a strong lead in the early hours of election returns. At about 10 p.m., LePage had 34 percent of the vote, or 4,119 votes, with 70 of 596 precincts reporting.

Following LePage was Les Otten, with 17 percent or 2,089 votes; Steve Abbott with 15 percent or 1,808 votes; Peter Mills with 14 percent or 1,628 votes; Bill Beardsley with 12 percent or 1,405 votes; Bruce Poliquin with 5 percent or 551 votes and Matt Jacobson with 3 percent or 407 votes.

“Paul LePage, Paul LePage,” they chanted as he entered the restaurant in his hometown just after 8:30 p.m. LePage said earlier on the sidewalk that he would not have celebrated anywhere else.

“Hey, this is where I started in politics, and the people of Waterville have been just phenomenal to me,” he said. “It’s a life experience that
I’ll never forget.”

The general manager of Marden’s Surplus & Salvage stores statewide, LePage, 61, is a Republican mayor in a largely Democratic city. He presides over a seven-member City Council. Six councilors are Democrats; one is unenrolled.

Many people at the party said they changed their party affiliation to vote in the primary for LePage.

Waterville resident David Geller, who served with LePage on a city charter commission, was one of those who changed parties.

“I was a Democrat and I switched three weeks ago for the sole purpose of being able to vote for Paul in the primary,” Geller said. “I’m happy to support him. He’ll make a fantastic governor.”

Wearing LePage T-shirts and buttons and carrying signs, supporters yelled and screamed as he meandered through the crowd, hugging friends and relatives, including his two eldest daughters who arrived from Canada to surprise him.

His wife, Ann, kissed and embraced him.

“I’m just proud of him,” she said earlier. “He’s had so many people working so hard for him. It’s been very humbling. If he does win, it’s because of these people. I’m glad we did it and I wouldn’t have done anything different.”

Revelers ate salsa and chips and drank beer and margaritas. LePage was the center of attention.

“It’s been a grassroots campaign,” he said earlier. “We have run this campaign with hundreds of people not getting paid and working tirelessly with cell phones and Facebook, and we’ve got one person who’s going to get paid if we win.”

His campaign manager, John Morris, the former Waterville police chief, said he was anxious to see election results.

“This campaign was a ‘resumé campaign’ versus campaigns of the political machine,” Morris said. “What’s made this one of the most exciting five months of my life has been the tremendous energy and excitement of all the volunteers.”

LePage served as a two-term city councilor before being elected mayor in 2003.

He has advocated for the last six years against a tax-rate increase. Six years ago, the tax rate remained the same as it had been the previous year. It has been lowered for each of the last five years.

The second-oldest of 18 children, LePage was born in the “Little Canada” section of Lewiston, speaking only French until he was about 12. His family was dysfunctional and poor, and he ran away from home when he was 11 to live on the streets.

He graduated from Lewiston High School in 1967 and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a focus in finance and economics, from Husson College in 1971; he also earned a master’s degree in business administration from University of Maine in 1975. Before joining Marden’s in 1996, he ran a consulting company in which he turned financially-troubled companies around.