Updated 9:53 a.m. Nov. 7, 2018
Democrat Janet Mills will become the first woman elected governor of Maine, according to preliminary results.
Mills, the apparent beneficiary of a national surge of progressive disenchantment with Republican President Donald Trump and energized women voters, declared victory during a joyous election party at Aura in Portland.
Mills also appeared to be part of a national resurgence for Democrats in gubernatorial races. Republicans entered Election Day controlling 33 governor's offices. But Democrats, utilizing new financial support from a redirection of progressive donors to state races, showed signs of loosening the GOP grip. By early Wednesday morning, Democrats had picked up six governor's seats, including the one in Maine.
Mills was leading Republican Shawn Moody 50-43 with about half of the precincts reporting when Moody conceded the race. Independent Terry Hayes, poised to finish in the single digits, conceded shortly after returns began coming in.
Before she stepped onto the stage at Aura in Portland, Mills scooped up her granddaughter Noelle. It was after midnight, the music was loud, the child was tired. Mills, who will turn 71 in December, was not. She sang a few lines of the The Temptation "Get Ready," did a little dance.
And then she talked about the future of Maine.
"You know there is too much at stake here to fall back on the old ways," she said. "I pledge as your governor to think anew, to act anew, to begin anew. Starting now," she said.
Mills' victory came on a good night for Democrats almost everywhere. The party has had precious few victories during recent elections, including the 2016 presidential race that put Donald Trump in the White House. That outcome shocked national Democrats, but it was a familiar feeling for Maine progressives, who have suffered brutal losses to the governor who Mills will succeed in January, Republican Paul LePage.
Those losses, as well as the 2016 presidential election, were top of mind for Tamara Hoke, who arrived earlier for Mills' election party. Hoke was optimistic, but also prepared for the worst.
"It's hard not to feel a little discouraged, but I think Janet has run a very positive campaign," Hoke says. "I think she's a very strong candidate, very intelligent, very knowledgeable and it would be so wonderful to have our first woman governor."
Shortly before midnight, it was increasingly clear that Hoke's wish would be granted. Mills had pulled ahead of Moody by seven points, even before all the votes were counted in progressive strongholds like Portland.
LePage and his political team backed Moody, an owner of a successful chain of auto body repair shops. Moody promised to be less "overpowering" than than his predecessor, but vowed to continue his policy agenda if elected. Mills rarely attacked Moody during debates, leaning instead on her policy knowledge and promise to unite a state that she said was bitterly divided by the tempestuous LePage.
Tuesday night Moody addressed his supporters at his business headquarters in Gorham. He said he thought he had a path to victory, but, he said, he was facing strong headwinds — a national surge that trickled all the way to the polling places he visited on Tuesday.
"I could kind of get a feel, or a sense — shaking hands going in — that there was a lot of people who were on a mission," he said. "I think the political pendulum swings to one side or the other."
On Tuesday the pendulum swung left, allowing Mills to be a part of a national resurgence for Democrats in gubernatorial races.
For a brief moment, it looked like Mills wouldn't address the history she had just made, at least not the history everyone was thinking about.
"Something about this election is a little different," she told supporters. "Something makes this stand apart from the rest," she said, adding, "I will be the first and only governor elected from Franklin County."
Then, her head-fake completed, Mills gave her supporters, many of them women, some of them crying, what they wanted to hear: "Tonight, I do hope this election sends a powerful signal, a message to the women and girls of Maine, of any age, there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. None," she said.