Moody holds commanding lead in GOP primary; Mills and Cote lead Democrats

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Shawn Moody was rocketing ahead of his opponents in the Republican primary for governor Tuesday, while Attorney General Janet Mills held a narrow lead over Sanford attorney Adam Cote on the Democratic side.

With about 25 percent of precincts reporting, Moody had 55 percent of the vote and was carrying some of Maine’s largest cities, including Bangor and Portland. On the Democratic side, Mills had 33.9 percent of the vote and Cote 28.2 percent.

If the trends hold, ranked-choice voting is not going to complicate matters for Republicans, but Democrats will have to wait several days for a retabulation of ballots to determine who will get the party’s nod.

Moody’s commanding lead compelled House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, one of his three competitors for the party’s nomination, to concede in a tweet that offered congratulations to Moody just after 10 p.m.

“I am proud of the campaign we ran, and I want to thank each and every person who supported me along the way,” Fredette tweeted. “I’m looking forward to returning to the Legislature next week to finish our work.”

About 166 of the 574 voting precincts in Maine had reported results as of 10:30 p.m.

The Republican candidates include Fredette, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon, former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew of South China, and Moody.

All four tried to align their positions with outgoing Gov. Paul LePage and show how they intend to carry on LePage’s agenda of cutting taxes, shrinking government and reforming welfare.

Moody secured the endorsement of LePage’s wife, Ann LePage, and hired former LePage staffers, including the governor’s daughter, Lauren LePage, and longtime political adviser Brent Littlefield. Mayhew has touted her work on welfare reform and balancing the state’s budget as a member of LePage’s cabinet.

Fredette has often led the charge at the State House to sustain LePage vetoes of bills that conservative Republicans disliked, including five different expansions of Medicaid. Mason has touted his voting record in the state Senate backing the LePage agenda, including opposition to bills that would stiffen gun-control laws in Maine.

DEMOCRATS PLEDGE DIFFERENT STYLE

The Democratic race for governor features seven candidates – Cote, Donna Dion of Biddeford, Mark Dion of Portland, Mark Eves of North Berwick, Mills of Farmington, Diane Russell of Portland and Betsy Sweet of Hallowell – all pledging to bring a completely different governing style and priorities list to Augusta than LePage’s.

Mills, who has served as Maine’s attorney general since 2014, was widely considered the front-runner since entering the race last July because of her prominent position and high-profile stances against LePage. But she has faced stiff competition – and verbal challenges – in recent weeks by Cote, an attorney and 20-year veteran of the Maine Army National Guard also courting the moderate vote.

Yet Maine’s first-ever use of ranked-choice voting has also been a factor throughout the Democratic campaign. The tone of the Democratic primary was largely congenial as candidates sought to at least become voters’ second or third choice if they weren’t the top selection. In recent weeks, Sweet has teamed with fellow progressive Eves – a former House Speaker – to urge voters to place the two at the top of their rankings in either order.

The candidates or their campaign spokesmen were putting positive spins on their situations Tuesday as they traveled from town to town, focusing on some of the state’s larger cities in Bangor and Lewiston.

Fredette said he was impressed by voter enthusiasm but he estimated the turnout as merely average or a little better than average for a primary.

“I felt a lot of people were still walking into the polls undecided,” Fredette said, adding that his campaign had been hampered somewhat by his responsibilities at the Legislature. Still, he said he remained optimistic.

CAMPAIGNS OPTIMISTIC

Zach Lingley, a spokesman for Mayhew, said the campaign was satisfied with its work over the 53 weeks that have passed since Mayhew became the first declared Republican candidate. “Nobody worked harder than we did, even today we had folks in 45 polling places,” Lingley said.

Ben Trundy, the political director for Mason’s campaign, said the campaign had been a well-disciplined one and was on track for victory. “Garrett feels good, the campaign feels good, we have done what we set out to do, are on track and in sync,” Trundy said.

Both Mayhew and Mason visited a number of towns Tuesday. Mayhew started the day in her hometown of China, voting with her son, Chance, who at 18 was casting a ballot for the first time. She later visited with her 85-year-old mother in Pittsfield and drove with her to the polls.

In Moody’s campaign, “Shawn is not running for governor to play politics or settle old scores in Augusta,” the candidate’s spokeswoman Lauren LePage said. “He vows to fight every day to grow Maine’s economy north to south, east to west.”

On the Democratic side, Mills began her day at 6 a.m. talking to Bath Iron Works employees. She also made stops in Brunswick, Biddeford, Portland and Lewiston, where supporters gathered at her campaign headquarters to watch returns.

“We are feeling cautiously optimistic,” Mills spokesman Michael Ambler said shortly before polls closed at 8 p.m. “Ranked-choice voting introduced a lot of volatility so we will have to see how it works out … We are definitely hoping for a big turnout in both congressional districts.”

Cote, meanwhile, began by casting his ballots at 8 a.m. in Sanford before hopping a plane to Presque Isle and then making his way south through Millinocket, Bangor, Lewiston and Auburn. Campaign spokeswoman Monica Castellanos said a surge in late donations in response to negative ads targeting Cote allowed the campaign to charter a plane, enabling the candidate to travel more of the state with his young daughters.

“The response was amazing,” Castellanos said as supporters geared up for an election night gathering at Cushnoc Brewing in Augusta. “We feel optimistic.”

Contact Scott Thistle at 791-6330 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog

Contact Kevin Miller at 791-6312 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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