Officially, the good citizens of Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and a slice of Scarborough elected themselves a new state senator this week.

Unofficially, they also sent a message.

“I think, to the extent that I represent opposition to the LePage administration, it clearly had something to do with this election,” said Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, who on Thursday gave up the House seat she had held since 2006 and walked down the State House corridor to her new digs in the Senate.

It’s hard to prove such things, of course — especially without Election Day exit polling.

But Dill, who only a few months ago was making even some fellow Democrats squirm with her rapid-fire objections to the antics of Gov. Paul LePage, has good reason to believe — just six months after Maine’s Republicans took control of the Legislature and the Blaine House — that the political pendulum is again on the move.

Consider the numbers.

In November, as the tea party-propelled Republican wave swept through voting booths statewide, Sen. Larry Bliss, a Democrat from South Portland, barely fended off a challenge from Republican newcomer Joe Palmieri of South Portland.

By the time the recount was over, Bliss had 9,163 votes to Palmieri’s 9,097.

Not so in Tuesday’s special election, called after Bliss resigned his seat to take a new job in California.

In what many predicted would be another squeaker, between Dill and Republican Louis Maietta Jr. of South Portland (Palmieri decided against running again), it wasn’t even close.

Dill got 5,081 votes to Maietta’s 2,405 — a whopping 68 percent majority. Even Dill admits she was “pleasantly surprised” by the landslide.

So what happened?

It depends, as always, on who’s doing the interpreting.

“It’s pretty simple, as far as I’m concerned,” said Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster, who figures he knocked on at least 2,000 doors throughout District 7 in his effort to chalk up another Senate seat for the GOP. “People who are working-class came out and voted for Louie — there’s absolutely no question in my mind.”

I feel a “but” coming on.

“But,” Webster continued, “anyone associated with the coalition built by the Democrats — members of the gay community, school teachers, unions, public employees — they all came out and supported Dill.”

What’s more, Webster said, the Democrats’ “personal attack” on Maietta over tax liens on his family’s construction business and a slew of other financial problems came too late in the campaign for Maietta to fight back effectively.

(Especially since Maietta spent most of the pre-election week attending his daughter’s wedding in the Caribbean and, adding insult to injury, came home with a nasty head cold.)

But beyond the admittedly rough-and tumble campaign (the GOP, among numerous other things, called Dill a “moonbat”) what about the LePage factor?

Might Tuesday’s election be seen as an early opportunity for voters to show their displeasure with the governor’s now-infamous “kiss-my-butt” invitation to the NAACP, the claim that the chemical BPA leads to ladies with “little beards,” the removal of the mural from the Department of Labor, the rollbacks on welfare benefits, child labor laws, health insurance for low-income adults … you know, all the things that draw almost-daily hordes of protesters to the Hall of Flags just outside the governor’s office?

“I knocked on a couple thousand doors,” Webster insisted. “And no one, not one person, mentioned LePage.”


Contacted Thursday, Maietta said he heard nary a mention of the governor’s name (or any of LePage’s ever-evolving nicknames) during his door-to-door stumping. What Maietta did hear, however, were near-constant pleas for an end to “all the bickering that’s going on in Augusta.”

“People are so fed up with it, it’s not even funny,” Maietta said, later conceding that the “distractions coming from the governor’s office” in recent months clearly have “overshadowed anything good that’s going on up there.”

Dill, not surprisingly, recalled an entirely different campaign experience.

Now keep in mind this is the same woman who has raised eyebrows in recent months with her proposed bill against nepotism in state government (see: Lauren LePage, $41,000-a-year assistant to Dad’s chief of staff), her futile effort to initiate a recall process (see: long road to a state constitutional amendment) and her outspoken opposition to the election of Speaker of the House Robert Nutting (see: pharmacy business bankruptcy brought on by $1.2 million in unreimbursed overcharges to MaineCare).

“I have not heard a single person raise any substantive issue other than Governor LePage and the crisis of leadership in Augusta,” Dill said. “I mean, not a single person!”

Of course, the never-shy Dill also sees her victory as proof that “the voters of District 7 are aware and alert and awake and know a good legislator when they see one.”

And she said she never could have done it without “a huge support network” that “worked around the clock getting people out” to the polls on Tuesday.

But Dill has no time for Webster’s suggestion that a Democratic “coalition of special interests” outflanked the GOP’s legions of “guys with ladders in the backs of their trucks.”

For starters, Dill said, the “myth” that the Republican Party is all about working people “has been debunked — if they were standing up for working people, they wouldn’t have tried to get rid of the Labor Committee and filed right-to-work legislation and taken all the other measures that are denying working people their rights.”

And where Webster sees “special interests,” Dill sees predictable pushback against a state government that’s now skewed far to the right of its normal center of gravity.

“The special interests that came out in District 7 were the constituents of District 7,” Dill said. “That’s the bottom line. The community was energized.”

No argument there from Maietta, who expected Tuesday’s turnout to be about half what it was.

“Everybody can speculate, but the bottom line is, the one fact coming out of the whole election,” Maietta said. “I lost.”

And LePage’s most vocal State House opponent won. Make that won big.

Stay tuned for 2012.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.