Elections like this could give money a bad name. While big-spending candidates in Tuesday’s primaries like Les Otten, Bruce Poliquin and Rosa Scarcelli were bucking up their dispirited supporters after conceding defeat, one of the stingiest candidates, Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, was celebrating with his volunteers after capturing nearly 38 percent of the vote in a seven-way Republican primary.

LePage’s victory was not the only sign Tuesday that this may be a year in which things don’t fall into line with the rules for Maine politics that we have learned from past races.

A well-financed campaign to save the tax reform law, which had been crafted, modified and refined by the Legislature over several years, was among the biggest losers of the night. The vote to repeal the law looked like a rejection of the elite leaders in politics and business who backed it.

Even though the tax package was put together almost entirely by Democrats, Tuesday’s numbers suggest that a lot of Democrats voted for its repeal. The approval of Question 1 means that tax policy will be at the center of the gubernatorial campaign, and each candidate’s ideas on taxes will be central to the debate.

LePage was the most surprising story to come out of the year-long primary campaign. His compelling life story, direct speaking style and embrace of the tea party movement made him an interesting candidate. So did his experience as a business and political executive.

But without much money, paid staff or TV air time, LePage was usually mentioned as more of a wild card than a contender.

His victory, which was not predicted in any of the public polls, is a sign that we might have to consider that there will be some different forces at play in the upcoming election.


Among the rules that may need to be rewritten is that Maine elections are battles for the middle ground, and that parties looking to win in November should be looking for nominees who could best lay claim to the moderate and independent voters who will turn out in the fall.

LePage does not fit that mold. Neither does Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell.

Mitchell is the most experienced politician in her primary, holding key leadership positions over decades, serving as the speaker of the House and currently as Senate president.

Mitchell was also as liberal as any candidate in this year’s race, even though she ran on her ability to work across party lines to pass a budget and a bond package this year under difficult financial circumstances. But Mitchell is better known as a key policymaker in her party and is no critic of the size and scope of state government.

Her sponsorship of a bill that would have made Maine the only state in the country to require paid sick days for workers is the kind of polarizing idea that will win her votes from progressives, but probably won’t play well with the middle of the electorate.

Both nominees would set a precedent by winning in the fall. Maine has never elected a woman to the highest office in state government, and it has not elected a Franco-American since the 1870s, even though one-quarter of the electorate is of French descent.


That should make for an exciting campaign in which both parties will be led by strong advocates of core principles, especially on the role of government in social services and education spending.

But this will not be a two-way race, and other voices will also be heard.

With both major party nominees appealing to their base, the center appears to be open to an independent, and three have qualified for the ballot.

Some analysts were calling independent candidate Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth the biggest winner Tuesday, because he could appeal to moderate voters from both parties as well as unenrolled voters who make up the largest segment of the electorate.

That would be a very conventional assessment, however, and the way Tuesday’s voting went, it’s probably not a good time to apply that kind of thinking to this election.


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