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Maine Primary Voters Have Their Say. Now What?

Rebecca Conley
Maine Public
A sign directs Maine primary voters to the polls in Richmond, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Well, the "pandemic primary" is over, and the stage set for this fall's election in Maine. Joining Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz to run through the results is Maine Public's State House Bureau Chief and Chief Political Correspondent Steve Mistler.

Ed. note: interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Gratz: Steve, good morning to you.

Good morning Irwin.

Well, we had a definitive  one might say emphatic  result in the Democratic Senate primary. Go ahead and tell us about it.

Yeah, so we had House Speaker Sara Gideon, who was the prohibitive favorite pretty much from the get go for over a year, she, with 70% of the precincts reporting, as of this morning has secured the nomination and also avoided a runoff under Maine's ranked-choice voting system. The Associated Press called the race around 9:30 last night, which is about 90 minutes after the polls closed. And she was able to defeat Betsy Sweet and Bre Kidman, who had really been at a disadvantage in the campaign because Gideon had secured some high profile endorsements, including that of minority leader Chuck Schumer, and aligned interest groups, and was really — you know, she was able to draw in a ton of money. And during the pandemic, when there were so many restrictions on person-to-person interactions, she was able to box out Sweet and Kidman, who really couldn't make up that fundraising difference in your traditional retail campaigning, which would be the best way to overcome a big fundraising disadvantage.

So what do you anticipate this race is going to look like going forward? It's obviously not just a straight up contest between Sara Gideon and Susan Collins, is it?

No, it's not. In fact, Lisa Savage, who is a Green Independent, has qualified for the ballot, and she's going to be on the ballot in November. Max Linn is expected to be on the ballot, and Max Linn is a pro-Trump candidate.  He ran as — or attempted to run as — a Republican in the U.S. Senate, and then challenging Angus King in 2018. But a bunch of his signatures were invalidated. If he's able to get on the ballot this time, he would offer up a non-Collins choice for conservative voters that are maybe not so happy with her criticism of the president in the past, or they're just not completely sure if she is on board with Trump's agenda. So Max Linn could be an option for those voters.

And then there's a third candidate who's talked about running but hasn't yet qualified, doesn't appear on the Maine election site, and that's Tiffany Bond. You might be familiar with her — she ran as a candidate in the 2nd Congressional District in 2018. But it's not clear she'll be on the ballot.

The point is, I guess, is that this is going to be a very expensive race. Candidate campaigns have already raised $40 million, and outside groups have spent over $15 million just to try to influence the primary. And I expect that that spending will skyrocket as we get closer to November. But the other thing to keep in mind here is, with these other candidates on the ballot, that could really make ranked-choice voting in play in November. So we will see how that shakes out. But that is certainly something we'll all be watching for.

Speaking of ranked-choice voting, let's talk about the Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District. Who was ahead there, and what's been happening in that race?

Yeah, so that race has not been called yet. But Dale Crafts, who's a former legislator here at the Maine State House and a businessman from Lisbon, has a pretty commanding lead. He's up by 15 points with about 70% of the precincts reporting. His two rivals, Eric Brakey, a former state senator from Auburn, and Adrianne Bennett, who was Gov. Paul LePage's former spokesperson. Both have conceded, but because Crafts has not achieved the 50-plus-one majority that is needed to be declared an outright winner after the initial count under our ranked-choice voting law, there's some questions about whether or not we'll still have to go to the runoff, even though Brakey and Bennett have conceded. In fact, Bennett is going to join Dale Crafts in a news conference at 11 o'clock this (Wednesday) morning. So what's not quite clear — and it's not quite clear from Secretary of State Matt Dunlap — is whether or not they need to proceed with the whole process of going through the runoff. I suspect that they probably will, just to make everything official, but I think it's probably safe to say at this point that Dale Crafts has the clear path to the nomination, and if there is a runoff it's probably just a formality at this point.

The 2nd Congressional District race did draw a lot of attention in 2018, and even before in 2016. Will that be the case again, you think, this year?

I think it will be, maybe not quite as much as the previous two election cycles. And I think the reason for that is because of the race we talked about at the very top, the U.S. Senate. That is going to draw a lot of Republican and Democratic money, because it's such a key race in terms of determining who might control the U.S. Senate in 2021. Democrats really believe they have a shot at retaking that chamber.

And that's not so much the case for Republicans in the House of Representatives. They already have a pretty significant deficit to overcome. And what we've seen is with the president, with President Trump's, sagging popularity, that he tends to be dragging down a lot of Republican congressional candidates. That's at least the way some of these forecasters are — that's their analysis anyway. It's unclear if the 2nd Congressional District race will still draw the same amount of outside money or just candidate donations, as it did even two years ago.

But it still looks to be an up or down race between Dale Crafts, if he is the nominee, and Jared Golden, a freshman. And so that will be a very interesting race to watch, in particular, because of the president's influence on that race, and because he won the 2nd Congressional District in 2016 by 10 points. But it's not quite clear if he's as popular in that district now as he was then. And if he's not, that could have some impact on the campaign that Dale Crafts would like to run, which to this point has been really pledging loyalty to the president. And that might have to change a little bit in the general election.

All right. Steve Mistler, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

Happy to do it.

Maine Public's Chief Political Correspondent Steve Mistler there.  

And reminders the campaign continues: Steve and Senior Political Correspondent Mal Leary offer additional insights each week on our Maine Political Pulse podcast, updated each week on Friday afternoons.

Originally published at 2:52 p.m. ET, July 15, 2020.