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In Maine, Election Day was especially good for Democrats — and bad for Republicans

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who was elected to a second term on Tuesday, speaks to reporters, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Portland, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who was elected to a second term on Tuesday, speaks to reporters, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Portland, Maine.

After an election that went particularly well for Maine Democrats, Maine Public's chief political correspondent, Steve Mistler, spoke with host Irwin Gratz about the results.

Democrats held onto the Blaine House and both chambers of the Legislature, and will likely keep both of the state's two congressional seats.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Mistler: Well, Irwin, you know, Democrats had a pretty good night all over the country and beat back an anticipated red wave into something that looks more like a ripple at this point. But in Maine, it was especially a good night. They retained their majorities in the Legislature. Their governor, Janet Mills, cruised to reelection. First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree won reelection and it looks like Second District Congressman Jared golden is a good position to do the same.

And look, I think what's really astounding about all this is that there was some speculation that Republicans could take control, complete control, even of state government, or in at least one of the two congressional seats. Instead, the Maine GOP remains exactly where it was and has been for the past four years, completely shut out of the state's political power positions.

And what are [the Democrats] doing right? Well, I don't know. I mean, I think one thing is that they haven't tacked too far left, at least in the Legislature. And I think that's really important in this state.

Gratz: Do we know yet what issues might have been driving voters yesterday?

Well, I think it's a bit early to draw any definitive conclusions Irwin, but I think abortion was obviously a key issue. We saw huge turnout numbers across the state and there was anecdotal reports of a lot of same day voter registration. We don't have any data on that yet. But I suspect if there was a spike in the same day registrations, it will have been driven by younger voters who don't typically turn out for midterm elections.

I think the other factor here is that Republicans were really hoping that voters would punish Democrats up and down the ballot for inflation and high energy prices. But we saw in the polling that voters weren't making that connection. You know, they might have done it in congressional contests in other states, but certainly not here in Maine.

We've been reporting this morning that Jared Golden, the Democratic congressman in the Second District, is going to face a ranked choice voting runoff. But given his lead, about five percentage points, and what happened four years ago, with Tiffany Bond's votes, isn't it pretty likely, at this point, Golden will hold that seat?

Yeah, that's really what it looks like. I mean, Golden leads, I think, 49% to 44%, with Bond, pulling in about 7%. That's with 80% of precincts reporting [as of Wednesday morning. Now that the election is going to ranked-choice runoff], as you've pointed out, it's widely expected that Tiffany Bond's second place votes will lift Golden over the finish line and secure him a third term in Congress.

And what's remarkable here Irwin is that Golden did this in a year that was supposed to favor Republicans. Now that tilt didn't really pan out the way the GOP had hoped in other House races, but Golden's ability to to hold one of the Trumpiest seats in the country, will no doubt varnish his independent credentials. And it could also increase speculation that he could run statewide, say the U.S. Senate, if that's something he wants to do.

Yeah. And I mean, as we've pointed out before, in some of our earlier discussions, I mean, Golden also staked out several positions that may not make Democratic base very happy, but clearly helped him yesterday.

That's right. But he could always tack left if he were to run statewide.

As you mentioned before, Democrats will hold the Legislature as well as the governorship. Do we have any idea what Governor Mills and the Legislature may try to accomplish now in the next two years?

Yeah, that's a great question. I have to say that we haven't really received much of a preview on that. I mean, I think Democrats are really essentially running on their legislative records. The same goes for Mills, who, you know, was basically running not necessarily a defensive campaign, but one that, you know, promoted largely her accomplishments and legislative achievements. And talking a little bit less about future plans. I think that's largely true writ large of the Democratic state lawmakers too.

I would expect that their ability to survive and thrive in an election that was supposed to go against them, may have emboldened them to push policies that may have been seen as politically risky this year. But again, I think Governor Mills will be a check against that, just as he has been for the past four years.

Were there any good signs yesterday for Republicans?

You know, I've been trying to look for a silver lining for the GOP in these results, Irwin and I just can't find one. I mean, the triumphant return of their de facto leader, former Governor Paul LePage ended in a pretty big defeat. If the margins were to hold that we see right now, this would be one of the biggest margins of victory for governor since Angus King in 1998. And the Republicans quest to retake at least one chamber in the Legislature is also a huge loss. You know, they're looking at a big whiff in the state's two congressional contests as well.

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