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Janet Mills defeats Paul LePage to win 2nd term as Maine governor

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Murray Carpenter
/
Maine Public
Maine Gov. Janet Mills delivers a victory speech late Tuesday night in Portland.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is on her way to securing a second term by defeating former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, her longtime antagonist who had vowed to challenge her before he left office in 2019.

The Associated Press called the race shortly before 1 a.m., with Mills leading LePage, 54% to 43%, and after claiming the key battlegrounds of Lewiston and building massive leads in Portland, the state's largest city, and holding its suburbs.

Mills repeatedly clashed with LePage while he was governor and she was state attorney general and their contest against one another often featured the mutual acrimony. But on Tuesday, Mills was equal parts triumphant and grateful. In a victory speech, she attributed her win to a governing style that has sharply contrasted with the bombast that LePage often displayed during his two previous terms as governor.

"We will continue to fight problems, not one another," she said during the speech at Aura in Portland.

Mills is Maine’s first woman elected governor and her staunch support of abortion rights was a centerpiece of her reelection campaign. She and Democratic interest groups relentlessly framed LePage, an abortion opponent, as an untrustworthy steward of a 29-year-old state law that enshrines access to the procedure up until fetal viability.

LePage, who often struggled to navigate the abortion issue during the campaign, dubbed Mills an elitist during a impromptu speech in Lewiston. He did not concede defeat but seemed to acknowledge that the vote count was not going his way.

"Janet Mills, I just hope that your second term — if I lose — is better than your first term because you are not an honest, sincere person," he said. "You're an elitist and I think America needs better than people who are not caring about the people they govern."

During her victory speech, Mills became tearful when discussing an interaction with a voter with a heart condition who claimed that the Democrat saved her life by implementing the voter-approved Medicaid expansion law that her predecessor, LePage, refused to.

MaineCare is the state's Medicaid program providing health coverage to low-income residents. LePage repeatedly blocked legislative efforts to expand the program through the Affordable Care Act and refused to implement it when voters approved the expansion in 2017. Mills began the implementation as one of her first acts as governor.

LePage had attempted to soften his brand during his bid for a third, nonconsecutive term, which was largely viewed as an attempt to woo voters who had rejected his governing style between 2011 and 2019. However, he routinely clashed with Mills during debates, calling her a liar and ill-suited to oversee Maine's economy.

During his speech he acknowledged that his stance against abortion hurt his campaign.

"I failed to make the message," he said. "We missed the message. It's about abortion, not about heating oil."

During a debate, LePage vowed to veto a bill that would limit access up until 15 weeks of pregnancy, but Democrats and abortion opponents alike said the Republican’s comments shouldn’t be believed.

Mills and Democrats also repeatedly highlighted LePage’s long history of false statements and combative conduct that had led some to compare him to former President Donald Trump. LePage, who had aligned with Trump in 2016, made little mention of the former president during the campaign as he sought to portray himself as less abrasive and more policy-focused than he was during his eight years as governor.

Mills and Democrats described LePage’s self-proclaimed transformation as an election ploy that obscured his intent to govern by chaos and division.

Mills, 74, has governed as a centrist. Her approach sometimes put her at odds with progressive activists, but likely appealed to independent voters, a large and influential part of the Maine electorate.