AUGUSTA — Maine Democrats see last week’s win on same-day voter registration as an indication that the tide is turning in Maine politics.

Party Chairman Ben Grant offered this takeaway line to television and newspaper reporters throughout Election Night — “It’s not the last election of 2011, it’s the first election of 2012.”

Why look to 2012?

That’s the first shot Democrats will have to take back the House and Senate following a dismal showing a year ago.

Democrats had a couple of reasons to celebrate last week.

A coalition of Democratic-leaning groups worked together to overturn a law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that would have required voters to register to vote no later than the Thursday before an election. With a 60-40 percent vote in favor of the people’s veto, Democrats felt pretty good about a big win.

Democrats also believe that a near-win in House District 24 — six towns in Penobscot and Somerset counties — is another sign that Republicans are struggling even in traditionally GOP districts. In that case, Republican Raymond Wallace of Dexter won with 49 percent of the vote, while Democrat David Pearson of Dexter got 43 percent and independent Lesley Maynard of Charleston got 8 percent.

Democrats argue that if it had been a two-way race, their man would have won.

For three decades, Republicans have dominated that seat. Stats provided by the Democrats showed Republicans winning the seat 65 to 35 percent in 2010, 55 to 45 percent in 2008, and 63 to 37 percent in 2006.

Is this near-win further evidence of a trend? Or good use of spin?

In the case of Question 1, it’s important to note that there was not much of a campaign on the other side.

Despite the influx of late money on behalf of the “no” campaign, its supporters just didn’t have the ground troops to knock on doors, call people and urge members of dozens of organizations to haul their neighbors to the polls.

And a last-ditch attempt by GOP Chairman Charlie Webster to try to scare people by tying EqualityMaine to the Yes on 1 campaign — EqualityMaine did donate money and gather signatures — didn’t seem to matter much in the end.

When it comes to legislative elections, experts continually caution against applying a larger narrative to 186 local races.

Yes, there may be a tea party or Occupy Wall Street movement, but when the local high school football coach is running against the town piano teacher, those kinds of things just don’t seem to matter.

One other thing for Democrats to consider heading into November 2012 is that President Obama isn’t all that popular in Maine right now. A recent Critical Insights poll showed a 43 percent favorability rating for him in Maine, the lowest it has been during his presidency. That compares to a 54 percent approval nationwide.

WEBSTER ON GAY MARRIAGE

Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster talked about his views on gay marriage last week during a forum with students at the University of Maine at Orono, according to a story in the Maine Campus.

Michael Shepherd, a former Kennebec Journal summer intern and editor in chief of the college paper, reported this from the meeting:

“A long conversation ensued on gay marriage. Webster defended what he saw as marriage equality supporters’ ‘problem’ in getting marriage equality laws enacted.

“A lot of people, they just don’t want to think about sexuality in any way,” Webster said. “They’re not discriminating.”

“I don’t support homosexual marriage,” he added.

“If you get marriage, it’ll be something else – trisexuals,” he said off-hand, trailing off and prompting laughter from the audience.”

Webster’s stance on gay marriage will become more and more important in the coming months if gay-rights advocates move forward with a citizen initiative to put marriage on the November 2012 ballot. EqualityMaine said last week it has well over the 57,277 signatures needed to get a question on the ballot, but that the group will wait until January to decide whether to move forward.

GANG LEGISLATION

People don’t usually think of Maine when they think of gangs, but Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, has introduced legislation to crack down on what she sees as a growing problem.

Her bill would make it a felony for an adult to recruit a juvenile into a gang, according to the House Republican Office.

“They are seeking rural areas for expansion into all kinds of crime, from drugs to human smuggling to prostitution to identity theft,” she said in a statement.

There are nine street gangs in Maine, according to the FBI, with 1,000 to 4,000 members.

Volk’s bill was given special permission by legislative leaders to move forward when the Legislature returns in January.

PENNY POLL RESULTS

The most unofficial of polls, a penny poll conducted by antiwar activists on Election Day, showed a few interesting trends.

Participants were given 10 pennies each and asked to put them in the jars to indicate where they wanted federal tax money to be spent. The “pollsters” were in 11 cities and towns and surveyed just over 2,000 people.

The biggest vote getter was education (19.5 percent), followed by health care (17.5 percent), veterans’ benefits (13.2 percent) and food/agriculture (9.8 percent).

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan M. Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]