Andrew Rudalevige, Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College, gives a presentation on the midterms at Frontier Cafe in Brunswick while fellow panelists Fred Horch, an independent from Brunswick, Pam Cahill, a former Republican member of the Maine House of Representatives and Senate from Woolwich, and Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, listen. (Nathan Strout / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — While Democrat gains in Congress may have been modest compared to the midterm election hype, Maine Dems certainly made their presence known in 2018.

“On the national level, everybody talks about a blue wave. I’m going to say it was a blue swell, certainly, at the national level,” said Pam Cahill, a former state Legislator from Woolwich, speaking as  part of a panel organized by the Brunswick Area League of Women Voters on Thursday. “But at the state level, it was indeed a wave.”

In Maine, Democrats held onto the house and flipped the senate, and Democrat Attorney General Janet Mills secured her place as the state’s next governor, replacing her long-term foil, Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Even with Democrats holding majorities in the house and senate and took over the Blaine House, Cahill, a Republican, saw hope for the future of Maine politics. Specifically, she hoped that the new balance of power would encourage more civility.

“I was hoping that when there was a big change in the power structure … maybe everyone would start coming back toward the middle. I don’t think you can govern well from either side, and I think that’s what got us in trouble now is that we have the far-lefts and the far-rights, and no one’s willing to come to the middle,” Cahill said.

While independent candidates didn’t spark a grey wave, there are some things independents and unenrolled voters can be happy about. Five independents won elections to the state legislature this year, ensuring that Maine will continue to have an independent presence in Augusta.

Independent panelist Fred Horch pointed to the implementation of ranked-choice voting as a plus for independents. While the new voting system isn’t used in state races yet, Horch hopes that its successful use in federal races will lead to renewed efforts to extend ranked-choice to state offices in the coming years.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King won re-election handily, having bested challengers Republican Eric Brakey and Democrat Zak Ringelstein — a point underscored when King stopped by the forum to say hello. King, a Brunswick resident, had overheard the forum from the room next door at Frontier Cafe, where he and his campaign staff were celebrating their victory.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Jared Golden remains neck-and-neck with incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin. That race will be decided through Maine newly implemented ranked-choice voting system. The Secretary of State’s office was due to begin counting ballots in that race today, but opponents of ranked-choice voting are likely to test its constitutionality in court through the 2nd District race.

While that race remains up in the air, Democrats still managed to take control of the U.S. House, while Republicans added to their majority in the U.S. Senate. For Andrew Rudalevige, the Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College, the big takeaway was the large turnout for a midterm election and the number of Democrats winning seats nationally.

Turnout blew past the 90 million voters expected by experts, said Rudalevige. An impressive 40 million people cast their votes early, and when all was said and done about 115 million people voted in the 2018 elections. Rudalevige said he expected turnout to settle just under 50 percent of eligible voters, compared to just 36 percent turnout in the 2014 midterm elections.

“It’s quite an increase in participation over the last midterm,” he said.

It’s not terribly surprising that Democrats won the U.S. House, according to Rudalevige. Historically, he said, the president’s party generally loses seats in a midterm election. Going against the Democrats, however, was a difficult election map that favored Republicans, especially in the Senate. Ultimately, that map dulled Democrats’ gains in the House and prevented them from taking the Senate.

“It was always going to be unlikely that Democrats were going to make gains,” said Rudalevige. “It would have had to be more of a tsunami than a wave election.”

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