Democrats control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the Legislature heading into the November elections, but Republicans hope a big name at the top of the ticket – former Gov. Paul LePage, seeking his old job – will help shift the balance of power.

As campaigns intensify post-Labor Day, the electoral landscape in Maine looks similar to the rest of the country. Historically, midterm elections have been unkind to the party that controls the White House, and experts this summer predicted a Republican wave, especially as record high inflation and gas prices weighed heavily.

Those challenges have been blunted more recently, though, with prices beginning to stabilize and gas prices falling. And the Democratic base has been energized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion access for the states to decide.

Maine gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage, center, seen June 17 at the Maine GOP Unity Rally in Lewiston, says he would like to exempt all seniors from income taxes and then phase out income taxes for others starting with the lowest-earning Mainers. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file

Increasingly, even the most local of elections are often colored by national politics, but Maine has an independent streak. And with little public polling out there, many races appear wide open.

Election Day in Maine will be dominated by the governor’s race between incumbent Democrat Janet Mills and LePage, the former two-term governor. Little-known independent candidate, Sam Hunkler of Beals, also is in the race. Mills and LePage have a history of clashes dating to when she served as attorney general while LePage was governor, but this is the first time they have been on the same ballot.

Down the ballot, all 186 seats in the Maine Legislature – 35 in the Senate and 151 in the House – will also be decided. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.


With about two months to go before Mainers vote, Mills has been polling slightly ahead of LePage. She also holds a considerable fundraising advantage, having raised $3.8 million through July compared to LePage’s $1.8 million. LePage’s campaign has downplayed those numbers, pointing out that he also was outspent in his previous victories.

Governor Janet Mills leaves The Porthole and Boone’s where an event for the National Governors Association was taking place on Wednesday in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

None of this, of course, accounts for the millions of dollars expected to be spent by outside groups. And two months is plenty of time for events outside of the candidates’ control to reshape the race.

“The race probably will be close,” James Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine in Farmington, said in an interview last week. “You can’t count on as high a level of turnout in a midterm election, which is especially an issue for the Democrats, trying to get their people to feel motivated to turn out and vote.”


Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political handicapping project run by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, called Maine’s gubernatorial race “the hottest in New England,” predicting the race is leaning toward Mills.

“While this race remains a viable Republican target, it has not moved into true toss-up territory yet,” the group said in an Aug. 18 newsletter. “It definitely remains worth watching, though, as we can imagine LePage – who has been on decent behavior recently, given his typical penchant for stirring controversy – rallying the state’s large cadre of white, working-class voters to victory once again.”


LePage’s campaign strategist, Brent Littlefield, declined to discuss the electoral landscape heading into November, other than to say the former governor is working to win as many votes in as many counties as possible. So far, the campaign has kept LePage’s public appearances close to the vest, with a few exceptions, but Littlefield says that, too, will change. He said LePage also plans to hold policy-centered events.

“We’re really viewing this as a restart,” Littlefield said in an interview. “When you get past Labor Day, it sort of begins the campaign all over again.”

In the spring, the Maine Republican Party launched an attack ad against Mills on transgender issues – mirroring national Republican strategy. This week, the party released a new ad that highlights LePage’s difficult upbringing and rise to governor – a story well known to Mainers.

Mills’ campaign manager, Alexandra Raposo, said the governor plans to continue emphasizing her bipartisan accomplishments and explaining her vision for strengthening Maine’s future.

“We feel good heading into Labor Day and are pleased with the reception we’ve been receiving across the state, but the Governor – like Maine people – never takes anything for granted,” Raposo said in an email.

Mills has been running TV ads for a month. One highlights her personal life – marrying a widower and helping to raise his five children –and another focuses on her history-making campaigns to be Maine’s first woman district attorney and governor.


Both LePage and Mills have shown they can attract some of the same voters.

Between 2014 and 2018, seven counties flipped from LePage to Mills. Those campaigns were vastly different, however. LePage was running as an incumbent and the 2014 race featured a strong independent candidate in Eliot Cutler.

In 2018, Mills faced Republican Shawn Moody, a well-respected businessman who couldn’t motivate the Republican base like LePage. That race also had an independent candidate, Terry Hayes, but she didn’t have the same wealth or name recognition as Cutler. And Republicans controlled the White House during that midterm, with Trump’s approval rating at 35 percent, according to Gallup.

Biden has been saddled with low approval ratings, which could bring down Democrats nationally. But those ratings have begun to improve, with national policy wins on infrastructure spending, investments in domestic computer chip makers, passage of the Inflation Relief Act and taking executive action to address student loan debt. According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden’s rating has risen from 38 percent to 43 percent since July.

In 2014, LePage won 14 out of 16 counties, losing only Cumberland and Knox counties. He earned nearly 295,000 votes in an election that included an anti-bear baiting referendum that helped turn out his base.

At the time, LePage earned more votes than any other governor in Maine’s history and it was accomplished against two well-known rivals – former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, and Cutler, a wealthy and well-known independent who placed second in 2010.


In 2018, Mills earned 29,000 more votes than LePage, albeit against a weaker field of candidates – Moody and Independent Terry Hayes.

But Mills only won nine out of 16 counties, including seven counties that went from red in 2014 to blue in 2018: Franklin, Kennebec, Hancock, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo and York.

Mills appears to have an advantage in those seven counties based on previous elections and as of June voter registrations, assuming Democratic voters turn out to the polls. The only exception is Franklin County.


Democrats have controlled the Maine Senate over the last four years and currently hold a 22-13 seat advantage. Ten incumbents are termed out of office: six Democrats and four Republicans.

The Senate has flipped four times in the last six elections.


Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake of Turner blamed Democratic policies for the inflation that is making it more difficult to make ends meet. Voters are looking for change, he said, and the slate of Republican candidates have “a strong track record of making their communities a better place.”

“We’re presenting a clear alternative: We’re telling Mainers that if they support Senate Republican candidates and reward us with a majority, the era of Augusta politicians raising your costs will be over as long as we’re in charge,” Timberlake said in a written statement.

Lily Herrmann, executive director of the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, said her party also has a strong slate of candidates. Despite headwinds nationally, Herrmann said Democratic candidates are highlighting their efforts to expand reproductive health care prior to the Supreme Court ruling, as well as local issues such as fully funding public education at 55 percent for the first time and fixing roads and bridges.

“We know we can keep this majority and we think we have opportunities to pick up seats, too, so we’re looking forward to the next couple of months, closing out the campaign and then headed into the real work of serving the people of Maine,” Herrmann said.

Several incumbent senators face tough challenges this fall, including Senate President Troy Jackson in Aroostook County. Republicans are making a hard play in a county that voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential elections.

The Maine Republican Party planted signs this summer falsely claiming that Jackson wants to defund the police. His opponent, Republican state Rep. Sue Bernard, a former TV newscaster and spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, has distanced herself from the tactic, without expressly denouncing it.


“We have seen southern Maine Republican operatives lie about our candidates and start campaigns about our candidates that are truly not based on the facts, and I think the voters are starting to see through that and there’s a backlash to those lies,” Herrmann said.

In District 11 in Waldo County, incumbent Sen. Chip Curry, D-Belfast, is facing Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox, who is termed out of her House seat.

Other races to watch include District 13, which includes the Lincoln County towns of Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor and Damariscotta. Democrat Chloe Maxmin flipped that seat from red to blue in 2018 but is not seeking reelection. Democrat Cameron Reny and Republican Abden Simmons, who lost his House seat to Independent Jeffrey Evangelos after one term in 2018, will face each other for that seat.

In Kennebec County, Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, easily captured the District 14 seat in a special election, though it has a history of electing Republicans. He’s challenged by Rep. Jeff Hanley, a Pittston Republican who just finished he 4th House term.

In District 20, which is currently held by Democrat Ned Claxton, Republican Eric Brakey is looking to recapture the seat he held from 2014 to 2018, when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. He’s running against Democrat Bettyann Sheats, who served in the House from 2016 to 2020.

Another race to watch is the seat that serves the Cumberland County towns of Windham, Raymond and Casco.


Sen. Bill Diamond, a Democrat, is termed out, leaving a wide open race in the newly drawn district between Democrat Timothy Nangle, a town councilor and former Portland medic, and Republican Gary Plummer, a former state representative and longtime county commissioner.

District 34 in York County could be close as well. Democrat Joe Rafferty flipped that seat in 2020. He’s being challenged by Republican Bradley Ducharme, who is finishing his first term in the House.


Getting a handle on the House races is more difficult, especially after the redistricting process, which redrew lines to ensure each district serves roughly the same number of people. Party insiders say candidate quality plays more of a factor in these races than national political forces.

CNalysis, another national election forecasting service, says control of the Maine House is the only toss-up so far in the country.

Democrats hold a 13-seat advantage in the House, which they have controlled for the last 30 years, with the exception of 2010-2011, when LePage was first elected. Nine seats are currently vacant and 36 members – 20 Republicans and 16 Democrats – cannot run because of term limits.


John Bott, a spokesperson for House Republicans, declined an interview request to speak about specific races, but said in a written statement that he believes his party’s candidates are well positioned, because of inflation.

“Given the unprecedented prices Mainers are paying for everyday items, we believe every race with a Republican candidate is a potential win,” Bott said. “The average Maine household is paying $556 more a month this year than last July. This translates into $6,670 more a year.”

Three of the seven seats in Aroostook County, which has voted for Republicans in recent statewide and national elections, seem to be fertile ground for Republican flips, especially in District 1, where Democratic Rep. John Martin is termed out of office. In that race, NASCAR driver Austin Theriault, a Fort Fairfield Republican, is running against Dana Appleby, of Saint John Plantation.

Democrats running in counties that voted for Moody in 2018, Trump in 2020 and Collins in 2020 could also be vulnerable. In addition to Aroostook, that includes Androscoggin, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington counties.

However Democrats also are buoyed by a surge in enthusiasm following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, easing inflation and a string of national policy wins, and are equally confident in their field of candidates.

Even so, Sean Smith, the campaign director of the Maine House Democratic Campaign Committee, said Democratic candidates are well-known in their districts and are focusing on local issues, rather than “bringing a MAGA Republican agenda to Maine and turning Maine towns and House districts into battlegrounds for national political agendas.”

“In my experience, candidates make all the difference in these small House districts. And I love our candidates this year,” Smith said in a written statement. “I know how well they fit their districts, I know how hard they are working to listen and introduce themselves to voters, and I know how much they are focused on what Mainers care about – the cost of living, gas prices, rising electric bills, child care, being able to afford a home where you want to live.”

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