November 7, 2012

Maine Democrats take back Legislature

After being swept from power in 2010, Dems will control both chambers

By Steve Mistler
Staff Writer

Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday called on newly elected legislators to "get to work for all Maine people."

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Maine Democratic Party Chair Ben Grant, left, appears at a news conference in the State House's Welcome Center earlier this year. 2012 file photo

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Unofficial election results show that Democrats will once again control the State House after being swept from power amid the Republican wave election of 2010.

In a statement congratulating candidates, LePage said they "must come together to find solutions to our fiscal challenges that will lead to the recovery of our economy and improve prosperity for hardworking families and businesses."

"I stand ready to work with those who will put Mainers first and won't allow the political rhetoric to continue," he said.

Democrats claimed to have picked up 19 seats in the 35-member Senate with two races still too close to call. They appear to have 87 seats in the 151-member House, with the results in one race still unsettled. 

Eighteen seats are required for a majority in the Senate and 76 are needed in the House.

Democrats say they have won 19-13-1 in the state Senate and 87-59-4 in the Maine House. If the current results hold, they will reverse the current Republican majorities in the House (77-70, two members unenrolled, two seats vacant) and the 19-15 advantage in the Senate (one unenrolled).

However, several of the races are still close and some could be subject to recounts.

If the results hold it will mean that Democrats would have the ability to check LePage's policy agenda after having played defense for the past two years. Democratic lawmakers will also hold sway over the state's constitutional officers, which include the secretary of state, state treasurer and attorney general. 

The victories would also represent a comeback of sorts for a party that has often held the power levers in Augusta. In addition to being swept from power two years ago, Democrats have also struggled against independent candidates in top-ticket races. Their candidates finished third in the 2010 governor's race and this year's U.S. Senate race.

Early Wednesday morning, party leaders attributed their victory to overreach by LePage and the current Republican majority. 

"This election was about working Mainers standing up for themselves and saying enough," said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant in a statement. "We heard them, we’ve got their back, and we’re ready to work."

Democratic candidates flipped Senate seats in at least four districts, including District 32 in Bangor, the most expensive race in the most expensive legislative election in state history. So far, 23 Republicans were unseated in the House. 

In addition, independent Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth appeared to hold off a stiff challenge from Republican upstart Chris Tyll, according to unofficial results.

Woodbury and Tyll were tied after six of seven precincts reported. Yarmouth, Woodbury’s hometown, appears to have lifted him to another term.

The Woodbury-Tyll race was significant on several levels. Woodbury, who caucuses with both parties, figured to be a key player if the Senate race resulted in a 17-17 tie. Tyll, meanwhile, was projected as a rising star in the Republican party. 

The race also drew attention from advocates for Maine Clean Elections Act, which allows candidates to receive public funding to finance their campaigns. Recent changes to the law, by the Republican Legislature and the U.S. Supreme Court, were believed to have weakened it. Woodbury, who ran as a Clean Elections candidate, was initially besieged by conservative groups spending against him and supporting Tyll. The Yarmouth independent had just over $20,000 to spend on his race, yet outside groups had spent over $70,000 to bolster Tyll before OneMaine, an group started by 2010 gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, and another political action committee intervened on Woodbury's behalf. 

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, Democrats’ biggest win was in Senate District 32, in Bangor and Hermon, where Democrat challenger Geoffrey Gratwick defeated Republican incumbent Nichi Farnham by an estimated 200 votes. 

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