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New Poll: Mills, Moody Tied For Lead In Maine Governor's Race

Republican Shawn Moody and Democrat Janet Mills are locked in a tie in the race for governor, according to a new poll released by Suffolk University in Boston.
The poll also has independent U.S. Sen. Angus King with a commanding lead over Republican challenger Eric Brakey, while Mainers remain divided over  ranked-choice voting, the same method that will be used to determine this November’s congressional contests - but not the governor’s race.

The absence of ranked-choice voting in the gubernatorial contest, as well as the poll results, will likely concern Maine Democrats. While Mills, the Democratic state attorney general, is tied with businessman Moody at 39 percent, two independents, Teresea Hayes and Alan Caron are also in the race.

Neither Hayes nor Caron had a particularly strong showing in the poll, receiving 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively. However, there are concerns among Democratic activists that both independents will draw support from voters who might otherwise pick Mills.

And unlike the June primary, voters will not use ranked-choice voting when voting for governor in November, a method that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

Close to 16 percent of respondents said they were undecided about the governor’s race

In the U.S. Senate race, which will use the ranked-choice method, 52 percent of respondents said they would vote for King if the election were held today. Brakey, a state senator, received 25 percent, while Democratic candidate Zak Ringelstein received 9 percent.

The poll also found that King would increase his lead if the vote count continued to the second round of ranked-choice voting, 58 percent to 27 percent.

The landline and cellphone poll of 500 registered Maine voters was conducted between Aug. 2 and Aug. 6. It has a margin of error of 4.4 percent, at a 95 percent confidence level.

The survey is the first public measurement of statewide contests that voters will decide in November. Voters will also decide two races for the U.S. House, and legislative races, but none of those were measured in the poll released Wednesday.

But the survey did measure issues that could shape the two statewide contests.

Respondents said health care and the economy were their top issues when voting for governor this year. President Donald Trump was the top issue in the U.S. Senate race, followed by the economy, health care and immigration.

Trump, who lost the state by three points in 2016 but won in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, was not viewed favorably by a majority of respondents. Five-five percent view the president unfavorably, while nearly half said they want their vote in November to change the direction in which Trump is leading the country. Thirty percent said they want their vote to support President Trump’s direction.

More than half of respondents said they think Maine is on the right track, although only 37 percent view outgoing Gov. Paul LePage in a favorable light. Additionally, 56 percent of the respondents said they disagreed with the governor’s refusal to implement the voter-approved expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, or MaineCare. Forty percent said they agreed with the governor.

Among the gubernatorial candidates seeking to replace LePage next year, Moody had the highest favorability rating of 46 percent, while Mills was viewed favorably by 44 percent.

King’s first term in the Senate has not diminished his popularity. The former two-term Maine governor had the highest approval rating of the politicians measured in the survey at over 63 percent. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was viewed favorably by 49 percent.

Respondents were divided mostly along party lines over the landmark ranked-choice voting law that voters approved in 2016. While overall, 47 percent approved of the system and 43 percent disapproved, perceptions of it are shaped by party affiliation. Seventy-one percent of registered Democrats approve of it, while 67 percent of Republicans surveyed disapprove.

This story was originally published Aug. 8, 2018 at 1:17 p.m. ET.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.