Janet Mills becomes Maine's first female governor

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Democrat Janet Mills won the governor’s race early Wednesday, as Republican Shawn Moody conceded defeat.

With 325 of 574 precincts reporting, Mills had 50 percent of the vote to Moody’s 44 percent. Independent candidate Terry Hayes, who conceded early in the evening, was drawing about 6 percent of the vote. The returns, coming in slowly after a day that saw a larger-than-expected turnout, represent 46 percent of the total vote.

Despite the uncertainty that lingered past midnight, the mood at the Mills election-watch party was upbeat as several hundred supporters and leading Democrat figures gathered at Aura nightclub in Portland.

Mills becomes Maine’s first woman governor.

Mills campaign spokesman Scott Ogden said the campaign always knew it would be a close race, but momentum seemed to shift in Democrats’ favor in recent weeks. And results trickled in, Ogden said he was pleased with what he saw.

“It appears that we are outperforming where (Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Mike Michaud was in 2014, so that is encouraging,” Ogden said. “So we are still feeling cautiously optimistic.”

Moody was watching the returns with supporters, including first lady Ann LePage, at his Gorham business.

“That’s the score right there,” Moody said pointing to the television screen in the room. “So we’ve got some work to do.”

The crowd of about 200 supporters was subdued but still holding out hope Moody would recover from an early deficit.

Mills will replace the hard-charging and controversial Republican Paul LePage, whose legacy has cast a shadow on the campaign trail, going back to the primary. On the Democratic side, Mills and the other hopefuls vowed to be the opposite of the brash-talking and sometimes explosive LePage. It was a particular point for Mills, who for the last six years, as the state’s attorney general, has dogged LePage and been a foil to his conservative agenda.

Moody vowed to continue LePage policies, and benefited from inheriting a campaign staff from LePage, including daughter Lauren LePage and political adviser Brent Littlefield.

LePage’s public complaints about Mills — he even filed a lawsuit at one point accusing her of abusing her powers — served to raise Mills’ profile statewide, both for the Democrats who loathe LePage and the Republicans who love him.

The 2018 race for governor was unusual in several respects, most notably the largely civil tenor and low-key profile of the campaigns.

Neither Moody nor Mills held any large, public events — such as rallies featuring big-name national political figures — since winning their respective primary races in June. Instead, both candidates relied heavily on small-group gatherings, unpublicized visits with business or community groups, appearances at fairs or other events, and aggressive get-out-the-vote campaigns.

The four candidate for governor — including Hayes and fellow independent Alan Caron, who dropped out and endorsed Mills last week — were largely respectful and even courteous to each other at debates and forums. It wasn’t until last week, during the final televised debate of the election, that the gloves came off and the candidates personally went after each other.

There were plenty of attack ads — and accusations of lies, distortions and flip-flopping – swirling around the gubernatorial campaign. But the campaigns allowed the state parties or outside groups to do much of that dirty work.

All told, the four gubernatorial campaigns — including Caron — had spent more than $6.6 million as of the beginning of this month. The Maine Democratic Party, the Maine Republican Party and more than a half-dozen outside groups, meanwhile, have pumped more than $11 million into the gubernatorial race, according to campaign finance data compiled by the Maine Ethics Commission.

Mills, who has served eight yeas as attorney general, campaigned on taking Maine in “a new direction” and on “turning the page” after eight tumultuous years under Gov. Paul LePage. Throughout her campaign, Mills highlighted her history of rebuffing both LePage – repeatedly refusing to represent the administration on court – and President Trump on issues ranging from health care to immigration.

But Mills, 70, also emphasized her track record as a former prosecutor in western Maine and her family roots in Maine’s more rural, conservative 2nd Congressional District. In addition to campaigning on bedrock Democratic issues such as access to abortion and protecting the environment, Mills pledged to continue working to address the opioid crisis, to take an “all of the above” strategy to economic development and to expand Medicaid on her first day in office.

Moody, 59, said he would “run the state like a business” as he pointed to the Moody’s Collision Centers auto body repair chain he started decades ago and now employs roughly 200 people in 11 locations. The Gorham resident pledged to continue much of LePage’s work to reduce taxes, reform welfare and streamline government but in a more collaborative and less controversial way.

He warned against turning Augusta “back over to the politicians” — an attempted swipe at Mills’ lengthy service as legislator and attorney general — but also highlighted his work on Maine’s university system and community college boards. Moody’s top campaign issues included cutting taxes, improving the business climate by reducing red tape, facilitating businesses to move to Maine and convincing more former Mainers as well as non-residents to live in the state.

Hayes has served two terms as state treasurer and previously represented the Buckfield area in the Legislature for eight years. The only publicly financed or Clean Elections candidate still in the governor’s race, Hayes pledged to bring a more bipartisan and collaborative approach to governing. While she was a strong supporter of Democratic issues such as access to abortion and Medicaid expansion, she also sought to pick up Republican votes by pledging to lower taxes and to support a statewide teacher contract.

Janet Mills holds up her fists in celebration immediately after getting the phone call that she is the next governor of Maine at an AirBnB near her election party at Aura in Portland on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald)Shawn Moody stands with his wife Chrissi while talking to supporters and conceding the gubernatorial race to Janet Mills on Tuesday night in Gorham. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Janet Mills meets voters outside a polling place Tuesday in Lewiston. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

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