AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Tea party favorite Paul LePage surprised even himself with a commanding win of the Republican primary for governor Tuesday, while state Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell emerged as the Democratic nominee, setting the stage for a general election pitting a limited-government conservative against a liberal statehouse insider.
LePage, the Waterville mayor, called his victory with more than one-third of the vote "absolutely overwhelming."
"It says that the hardworking people of Maine want to be left alone, want straight government, want to have lower taxes and they want to be able to live their lives the way it was intended by out founders," he said.
No clear front-runner had emerged leading up to the primaries, and polls days before the election indicated more than half of voters still had not made up their minds.
For the seven Republican candidates, fiscal conservatism, harnessing government growth and making Maine more business-friendly were prominent campaign themes. The tea party movement, which has become a symbol of voters' anger and frustration, endorsed no candidate but LePage courted its followers.
Some of the GOP candidates distanced themselves from tea party-inspired planks in the state Republican party's platform, which called for the elimination of the Department of Education, a reference to global warming as a "myth" and a declaration that health care "is not a right. It is a service."
But the conservative message apparently struck a chord with voters.
LePage's GOP rivals included former ski executive Les Otten; businessman Bruce Poliquin; former Husson University President Bill Beardsley; business development executive Matt Jacobson; state Sen. Peter Mills; and Steve Abbott, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
Among the Democrats, ideas for how government can play a role in creating jobs dominated the campaigns.
Mitchell defeated two other public officials — former Attorney General Steve Rowe and former Conservation Commissioner Pat McGowan — and Rosa Scarcelli, a business owner, who had played up her role as a political outsider.
The November election will feature more than the two major-party candidates. Nonparty independents Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth, Kevin Scott of Andover and Shawn Moody of Gorham have all qualified to appear on the ballot, which for the first gubernatorial election in 16 years will not include a candidate from the Green Independent Party.
The winner of November's election will succeed two-term Gov. John Baldacci, who in 2003 became the first Democrat in 16 years to hold the office. Republican John McKernan served from 1987-1995, and independent Angus King served the next eight years.