State Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, overwhelmingly won what was expected to be a hotly contested special election for the state Senate in a district covering South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and an eastern portion of Scarborough.
Dill won in all three towns in District 7 on Tuesday, surprisingly running up her biggest margin in South Portland, the hometown of her opponent, Louis B. Maietta Jr., a businessman.
Dill took nearly 70 percent of the vote in South Portland, 68 percent in Cape Elizabeth and 60 percent in Scarborough.
Overall, Dill tallied 5,056 votes, or 67.7 percent, to Maietta’s 2,405.
It was a short but heated race to succeed Sen. Larry Bliss, a Democrat who resigned to take a job in California.
Bliss had barely hung on to the seat as an incumbent in 2010, beating Republican Joe Palmieri by 75 votes out of more than 18,000 cast, and this race was expected to reflect that apparently sharp partisan split in the district.
Even though the outcome wouldn’t affect the Republican control of the state Senate, the GOP poured money into the race, sending out mailers accusing Dill of being to blame for lost jobs and high taxes, of wanting higher gasoline prices and of having “gone over the top” in a flier suggesting she was a circus performer.
Then, in the last two weeks of the race, documents showing serious financial difficulties facing Maietta were leaked anonymously. They indicated Maietta owed more than $800,000 to a 96-year-old woman who accused him in a lawsuit of borrowing money that he never repaid; had hundreds of thousands of dollars in IRS liens against his property because the family construction company, currently in bankruptcy court, was accused of not paying employee payroll taxes; and hasn’t paid property taxes on his South Portland home for nearly two years, running up a bill of more than $12,000 in taxes and interest.
Maietta wasn’t available to answer the charges initially because he was in the Caribbean most of the last full week of the campaign for a daughter’s wedding. When he returned, he denied most of the allegations and accused Dill of leaking the documents; she denied that charge.
At a celebration Tuesday night in Cape Elizabeth, Dill thought what she called negative campaigning against her backfired on Maietta. She also attributed her victory to having a record to run on, and to some backlash against the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. “That certainly played into it,” she said.
Messages left for Maietta were not returned Tuesday night. He had said earlier in the day that he was ill.
Dill said she believes the close 2010 race reflected national party politics rather than local issues.
“Now people see the differences between the parties,” she said.
Dill said she hopes to be able to take messages from both the 2010 results and this year’s special election and mold them together.
“We’ll endorse the policies designed to make Maine more business-friendly without ruining what we love about our state,” she said.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]