Republicans are focusing on inflation and disappointment with President Biden.

Democrats are talking about abortion and recent victories in Congress.

National issues are dominating Maine politics headed into the final two months of a campaign season to choose a governor and a new Legislature and both parties are hoping their voters will turn out as a result.

In the spring, election forecasters were predicting a stormy cycle for Democrats and a red wave for Republicans given historically high inflation and an unpopular president. That changed somewhat over the summer, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, falling gas prices and a series of national policy wins for Democrats, including student loan debt relief and climate investments in the Inflation Relief Act.

No one can say for sure how the national issues will affect the race for the Blaine House between incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Sam Hunkler. A lot can happen between now and November that could alter the dynamics, including shifts in the war in Ukraine, which has fueled inflation and high gas prices, or developments in the investigations into former President Trump.

Political observers in Maine say that while the political momentum appears to have shifted in a more favorable direction for Democrats, economic issues still give Republicans an advantage heading into Labor Day, the traditional start of campaign season.


“Things are certainly looking better for Democrats today than they were a month ago, but inflation is still pretty high overall and the Fed is likely to have to keep raising interest rates,” said Mark Brewer, a professor and chair of the political science department at the University of Maine in Orono. “As of right now, I would expect the economy in general and inflation in particular to be big issues for voters in the fall.”

This spring, the Critical Insights on Maine poll by Digital Research Inc. found Maine voters’ top concern was the economy.

Digital Research President Bob Domine said his firm plans to release its next survey in early October, which will measure voters’ concerns much closer to election day. Voter sentiment can change quickly, he said.

Last fall, voters were mostly concerned about the pandemic, but by springtime it was the economy and inflation, so it’s hard to predict what will rise to the top this fall, he said. One factor to consider, Domine said, is that while gas prices may be falling, heating oil prices are about twice as high as last year at this time.

“Notwithstanding the movement downward of gas prices, people will discover that heating oil is 100 percent more than it was a year ago,” Domine said. “One has to wonder all across the northern tier how that will factor in. And we will see.”

Lance Dutson, a Republican political strategist who is not working on any statewide races in Maine this year, believes voters are most  concerned about the economy and their ability to pay more for things like food, utilities and heating fuel.


“You can watch the gas prices go up and down but there is still a great deal of anxiety out there about the economy, inflation and how expensive everything is,” Dutson said. “The economy is usually the big issue anyway, but I think it’s going to be much more in focus this time around and that is a very bad sign for Democrats.”

He said Democrats’ focus on issues like abortion and LePage’s temperament is aimed at more progressive Democratic voters in southern Maine and could turn off swing voters in rural areas.

Duston, who has been critical of LePage in the past, believes the former two-term governor is well-positioned to win the race because he is focusing squarely on economic issues and is benefiting from disciplined messaging from the state party. He believes Republicans are more enthusiastic now than they were in 2010, when the party took control of the Blaine House and both chambers of the Legislature.

“I really believe LePage is in a position to win this now, based on what the issues are, how his campaign is functioning in a more disciplined way than they have in the past, and primarily because Mills and her Democratic team have utterly failed to speak to issues that the voters they need to switch their votes are focused on,” Dutson said.

However, David Farmer, a Democratic strategist, said that while prices remain high, they are not rising as fast as they were earlier this year. He believes the improving economic outlook, with low unemployment, the recovery from the pandemic and gas and consumer prices beginning to fall, coupled with a clear contrast in style and substance between Mills and LePage, will help Democrats weather the headwinds.

“The gloom and doom from four months ago – we’re in a different race now,” Farmer said. “Unlike earlier this year, when inflation seemed like it was only going up and gas prices were only going up, you’re starting to see that come down, so that’s starting to align with the generally good news about the job market.”


Democrats had been trailing Republicans in polling for congressional races for much of the year, according to averages from the poll analysis website FiveThirtyEight. But all of that changed in August, when Democrats gained a slight advantage.

There are other signs that the overturning of Roe v. Wade could come back to haunt Republicans around the country.

In Kansas, which is largely Republican, voters resoundingly defeated a referendum that would have removed a woman’s right to an abortion from the state constitution. And a survey conducted by Pew Research in early August registered a 13 percentage point increase – from 43 percent to 56 percent – in the number of voters who said that abortion was “very important” for their vote for Congress, though the economy remained the top issue for 77 percent of respondents.

Andrew Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center, which has experience polling in Maine, said he expects economic issues to remain a top priority for voters. Other hot-button issues, like abortion, are important to a small group of people, including donors, but can cut both ways, energizing the base for both parties.

“I think it’s going to be a strong Republican year, but I don’t think it’s going to be like 2010,” Smith said.

In midterm elections, the party that controls the White House usually loses seats in Congress and at the state level, Smith said, noting that turnout usually drops by about 20 percent from a presidential election to a midterm election.

“The people who are most likely to stay home are the people whose party won the presidency … whereas the party that loses the presidency is angry and they’re looking for ways to get back into power and they tend to show up in higher numbers in those midterms.”

James Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine in Farmington, believes most voters have made up their minds, so it makes sense for Democrats to focus on issues that motivate their base, rather than trying to change voters’ minds. He said abortion could be a powerful motivator for the party, since polls have shown Maine to be among the most pro-abortion access states in the country.

“You can’t count on as high a level of turnout in a midterm election, which is especially an issue for the Democrats,” Melcher said. “A lot of people made up their minds about how they were going to vote for governor the minute both LePage and Mills were in the race. There aren’t going to be as many people who can be persuaded in a race like that.”

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