By Peter A. Steele
Reflecting a national trend of anger and frustration at Democratic incumbents, Republicans swept the statewide elections Tuesday, installing a Republican governor in Augusta and providing him with Republican majorities in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.
Republicans now have 20 of the 35 seats in the Senate and at least 76 of 151 seats in the House, establishing a firm majority in both bodies. The election gives Republicans complete control of Augusta for the first time in decades.
But it appeared for a short time on Tuesday night that Mainers had chosen another independent as governor. Then Republican Paul LePage came from behind to edge out independent candidate Eliot Cutler in an extremely tight race to win the governor’s seat. Androscoggin County voters chose LePage by a much wider margin.
By Wednesday morning, statewide results showed that 38.1% of voters chose LePage over Cutler, who got 36.7%. Cutler called LePage to concede around 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
In this race for governor, every vote mattered: on Tuesday night, with 533 of 596 precincts reporting, LePage was holding 188,789 votes, while Cutler has 182,582.
But in Androscoggin County, there was not much equivocation: voters chose LePage by a much larger percentage. LePage easily defeated Cutler in Androscoggin County, taking 45% of the votes to Cutler’s 33% (18,093 to 13,371 votes).
Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, a Democratic fixture in Augusta for almost four decades, was sent packing with only 17% of the vote from Androscoggin County. That’s even lower than her statewide vote, which was just over 19%.
In Auburn, voters firmly chose LePage over Cutler, 40% to 36% (3,452 to 3,066 votes). Mitchell won just 19% of the vote in Auburn (1,580 votes), which mirrored the support she received statewide.
In Lewiston, where LePage spent his childhood, he won by an even larger margin over Cutler, 41% to 33% (4,599 votes to 3,657). Mitchell got 21% (2,397 votes).
Cutler took an early lead on Tuesday night an hour after polls closed, and LePage supporters began biting their nails. The margin for Cutler began to increase, dampening the hopes of LePage followers.
But LePage appeared on TV to announce that he would win, pointing out that hundreds of small-town results had not yet been tallied. Once those “slowpokes” finished hand-counting the ballots, LePage said he was certain he would overtake Cutler.
Those towns rest firmly in “LePage country,” supporters noted. LePage confidently predicted a long night, then a victory in the morning. As the results trickled in, voters across the state realized that he was right.
In the races for U.S. Congress, the results belied the polling predictions over the past couple of weeks. Polls showed Republican challenger Dean Scontras in a statistical dead heat with 1st District incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree and Republican challenger Jason Levesque of Auburn within a few points of 2nd District incumbent Mike Michaud.
But Michaud defeated Levesque by 10 points, taking 55% of the vote to Levesque’s 45%. And Pingree beat Scontras by 14 points, 57% to 43%.
In Androscoggin County, 54% percent of the voters chose Michaud, who has served as a U.S. representative in Congress since 2002, while 46% supported newcomer Levesque (22,389 to 19,361 votes).
In Auburn, 54% of voters cast ballots for Michaud, while Levesque took 46% (4,851 to 4,100 votes).
In the Democratic stronghold of Lewiston, Michaud defeated Levesque by a much larger margin, 59% to 40% (6,969 to 4,747 votes.)
In the local races for state senators and state representatives, Republican challenger Lois Snowe-Mello handily defeated incumbent Deborah Simpson of Auburn to become the new senator for District 15, which includes part of Auburn, Poland and Durham.
Snowe-Mello lost in Auburn, taking 49% of the vote to Simpson’s 51%. (4,316 to 4,519 votes). But the district-wide vote carried Snowe-Mello to victory over Simpson, 53% to 46% (8,465 to 7,346 votes).
Republican State Rep. Bruce Bickford of Auburn held his District 70 seat, beating back a challenge by Democrat Mike Scott, 58% to 42% in Auburn and 54% to 46% in Lewiston. The district serves Auburn and part of Lewiston. District-wide, Bickford won 2,099 votes, while Scott took 1,587.
Democratic State Rep. Brian Bolduc of Auburn retained his seat in District 69, defeating Republican challenger John Michael, 56% to 45% (1,248 to 1,022 votes).
Lewiston chose to hold tight to its Democratic legislators, re-electing them by decisive margins. Senator Margaret Craven of Lewiston held her District 16 seat, defeating her Republican challenger Joel Kase, 54% to 46% (6,218 votes to 5,364).
In House District 74, Democratic State Rep. Peggy Rotundo defeated Republican challenger Matthew Fournier, 57% to 43% (1,736 to 1,317 votes).
In House District 73, Democratic State Rep. Richard Wagner retained his seat, easily defeating Republican challenger Douglas Stone, 64% to 36% (1,510 to 853 votes).
In House District 72, Democratic State Rep. Mike Carey handily defeated Republican challenger Marcus Welch, 61% to 39% (1,070 to 696 votes).
In House District 71, Democratic State Rep. Mike Lajoie coasted to victory over Republican challenger Mark Chizmar, 61% to 39% (2,029 to 1,320 votes).
Of the 23,567 registered voters in Lewiston, 11,164 cast ballots in the election (47%).
Of the 15,796 registered voters in Auburn, 8,502 went to the polls (54%).