U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud turned back a challenge Tuesday night from Republican Jason Levesque in the contentious race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

“I want to thank the voters of the 2nd Congressional District for sending me back to Washington,” Michaud said. “Now it’s time to get back to work and to address the issues and get things back on track.”

Levesque briefly addressed a dwindling crowd at 11 p.m. and said that he would hold out until the votes of rural areas were counted. “There’s huge areas of the state left,” he said.

Unofficial returns as of 8:30 this morning showed Michaud leading Levesque 55 percent to 45 percent, with 367 of the district’s 412 precincts – 89 percent – reporting.

Polls initially gave Michaud a double-digit lead, but that margin had narrowed in recent days. The Maine Poll, commissioned by MaineToday Media, put the race late last week at 44 percent to 40 percent in favor of Michaud – a statistical dead heat.

The mood at both campaigns’ parties Tuesday night was upbeat, and supporters on both sides were hopeful.

Michaud held his election night party at Grassroots Catering on Main Street in East Millinocket and arrived at 8:47 p.m. He was greeted warmly by his two brothers, Jimmy and Jerry, his sister Lynne, and his mother, Jean.

“We planned my whole agenda today to be here in my hometown,” Michaud said. “It means the world to me to be able to share this night with family and friends.”

At Michaud’s party, the Rev. Bob Carlson, a retired chaplain, said he was impressed with Michaud’s work ethic and his ability to “engage people from all sides of an issue.”

“He’s a man of integrity,” Carlson said.

Levesque arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch at Great Falls Plaza in Auburn shortly before 8:30 p.m.

Shortly after 9 p.m., a campaign staffer at Levesque headquarters announced what he said was a good sign: Levesque had won by a 923-822 tally in Lincoln, which Michaud won in 2008.

At 9:30 p.m., Levesque addressed the crowd and said he had won in Turner as well. “It’s way too early to tell anything, but hey, thanks for coming,” he said.

Michaud, the 55-year-old incumbent Democrat, was seeking a fifth two-year term. Levesque, 36, of Auburn, owner of the Argo Marketing Group, has hoped to capitalize on a nationwide surge of anti-incumbent sentiment while questioning the proper role of the federal government.

Levesque, a former Army drill sergeant, has sharply criticized Michaud over his support “job-killing” legislation under the Obama administration, including the “failed” economic stimulus, health care overhaul, and cap-and-trade legislation. During the campaign, Levesque argued that the stagnant economy and double-digit unemployment rates in Maine and the nation were evidence that those bills have hurt, not helped, the country.

Michaud, a former millworker who was elected in 2002, has said he does not regret those votes and say they have helped what could have been even worse economic conditions.

 

– Freelance correspondent Franklin Manzo Jr. contributed to this report.