Maine Republicans were savoring their triumphs Wednesday after a decisive 2014 election that saw the party retain the Blaine House with the reelection of Gov. Paul LePage, recapture the 2nd Congressional District and seize control of the Maine Senate.

Democrats, who retained a majority in the Maine House but by a smaller margin, are likely in for a period of soul-searching in the wake of a national repudiation that saw the party lose the U.S. Senate and several governors’ races.

With 68 percent of precincts reporting, LePage won nearly 48 percent of the vote to win a second term over Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud, who suffered the first defeat in his 34-year political career.

In the 2nd Congressional District, Republican Bruce Poliquin claimed victory early Wednesday over Democratic state Sen. Emily Cain. Poliquin had 47 percent of the vote and Cain 43 percent, with 61 percent of precincts reporting.

In the Maine Senate, results were not final but Republicans had won or were leading in races for 19 of the 35 seats. Meanwhile, Democrats were holding what looked like a 10-20 seat margin in the House elections.

David Sorensen, communications director for the Maine Republican Party, said Wednesday that he was confident in the days before the election, but the results exceeded expectations.

“This really says a lot about the issues and the agenda we put out,” Sorensen said. “People have responded to our message of welfare reform and economic reform. That is what carried the day.”

Sorensen said the reelection of LePage, coupled with a new Republican-controlled Senate, changes the dynamic in Augusta.

“We want to get things done,” he said of Republicans. “The ball will be in Democrats’ court. I think you’ll see a lot more pragmatism.”

Turnout for the election was driven largely by get-out-the-vote efforts by both parties and a controversial proposal to ban the baiting, trapping and housing of bears – a practice that wildlife officials say are necessary to control bear populations and upon which livelihoods of rural Mainers. The bear-baiting ban was defeated by voters, 53 percent to 47 percent, based on reports from 71 percent of precincts.

Nationally, Republicans picked up governorships and at least seven seats to gained control of the U.S. Senate, while strengthening their hold on the U.S. House.

Andrew Smith, an associate professor of practice in political science at the University of New Hampshire, said elections results in Maine were likely the result of national Republican wave.

“If the 2nd CD goes to Poliquin, which it looks like it will, I think that’s more evidence that these were national forces at play more than candidate forces and local issues, because neither of those candidates were well-known. In that sort of environment, it’s having the right letter after your name,” Smith said.

Democrats framed the election as a referendum on LePage’s first term in office, while Republicans tied Michaud’s policies and positions to an unpopular incumbent president.

Michaud and Cain ran on issues such as expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, raising the minimum wage and increasing investments in renewable energy.

However, it was LePage’s laser-like focus on welfare reform and tough stance on illegal immigration that appears to have struck a chord with voters. Republicans repeatedly attacked Michaud as supporting welfare for illegal immigrants and even suggested that a recent spike in diseases, such as Ebola and Hepatitis A, were the result of Obama’s soft control of the nation’s borders.

Independent Eliot Cutler, who nearly beat LePage in 2010, received 8 percent of the vote – a figure many thought would translate into a Michaud victory. But despite high-profile defections from Cutler supporters, including popular independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and former civil rights advocate Betsy Smith, Michaud didn’t pick up enough support to put him over the finish line.

Meanwhile, Michaud, who earned a reputation as a fiscally conservative Democrat, seemed to take more liberal stances on issues, such as creating new government agencies and proposing more than $30 million in new spending without saying how he’d pay for it, in an effort to cater more progressive voters in Southern Maine.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of finger-pointing over the Michaud campaign and how it was run,” Smith said.

Republicans also appear to have picked up at least four governorships, including in Massachusetts – a state which LePage argued was responsible for blocking an expansion of natural gas lines that could reduce the cost of energy in the state.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, as well top-tier Democrats such as President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former Pres. Bill Clinton and former First Lady Hillary Clinton, campaigned on behalf of Michaud, while LePage’s campaign was bolstered by five visits from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and an endorsement from former Pres. George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, who appeared in an television ad.

Polls throughout the race showed a close race between LePage and Michaud. However, a mid-October poll conducted on behalf of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center showed LePage pulling out to the first statistically significant lead of the campaign. The poll pinned LePage’s support at 45 percent.

Smith said LePage seemed to anticipate the national forces at play in the election and did a good job of boosting his favorability rating.

“LePage was able to see this was going to be a good Republican year and focused on things that would be more attractive to Republican voters and trying not turn off as many voters as possible,” Smith said. “He was far less controversial in this election than he was in 2010.”

This story will be updated.

Staff writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.

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