LEWISTON — Democratic challengers ousted at least one Republican incumbent in the Maine Senate on Tuesday and seemed close to grabbing another seat as well in a pair of key races in Androscoggin County.
It also appeared Democrats were going to retake control of the Maine House of Representatives.
Picking up a victory and a seat in the state's highest legislative body was former Auburn mayor and state Sen. John Cleveland of Auburn.
Cleveland took the Senate District 15 seat from Republican Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello.
Democrat Colleen Quint was leading the Senate District 17 race, but one town, Wales, had not reported results. The seat is held by first-term Sen. Garrett Mason, R- Lisbon Falls.
Mason said he wasn't ready to concede and that Quint's 178-vote lead without Wales was still "razor-thin" and within the margin for an automatic recount.
"I think we've got to wait and see," Mason said. "Colleen ran a really, really hard race and so we are going to hang on; we are going to explore our options and we are going to wait."
Quint said she traveled to all 10 towns in Senate District 17 on Tuesday and the turnout seemed much higher than she expected.
Quint said were she to prevail, her top focus would be education and jobs.
"That's really what it's all about, as far as I'm concerned," Quint said. "As I've talked about before, there's just an inextricable link between those two things and I think that's what we need to do, not just for the future of the state but for right now."
Quint said Mason was always professional and polite whenever they ran into each other on the campaign trail. "And I really appreciate that, but I think we've had very different approaches."
Cleveland said he would hit the ground running and hoped to focus on jobs and education. As an incoming state senator, he was already planning to meet with Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen on Wednesday, he said.
"I'm going to focus on funding for Edward Little High School," Cleveland said. "We've got to try and do something to get that school upgraded. We can't do it by paying for it all with property taxes. I want to see what we can do to get more money into school construction, so we can move up a little higher on the rating list."
Cleveland said he was ready to switch over from campaign mode to legislative mode because he's done it before, having served eight years in the state Senate previously.
"I'm trying not to think beyond tonight, but I am thinking a little about what kind of committees. I'm going to ask the community what they would like," Cleveland said.
He said a new make-up in the state Legislature would force increased cooperation in Augusta.
"I think it's going to require more negotiation and compromise between the two parties," Cleveland said. "I would be surprised if Gov. LePage can get everything he wants simply by asking his Republicans to support it."
At Androscoggin County Republican Party headquarters, the mood was less than electric early in the night as challengers in several races began to concede they had lost.
"I got smoked," said Tim Lajoie, a Republican challenger to Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, in the House District 74 race. Lajoie said he felt he ran a clean campaign but was disappointed it wasn't enough to beat the well-known and popular incumbent.
"It's just one of those things," Lajoie said. "I'm proud of the way we ran the race, but obviously, I'm disappointed with the outcome."
Rotundo said she saw a resounding message from voters in Tuesday night's results.
"I think as you look at the results in Lewiston and around the state, voters spoke clearly that they want a strong voice for the middle class and struggling families," Rotundo said. "We will take that trust they have placed in us seriously and will do our very best to represent them well."
Republicans conceded Lewiston's Senate District 16 race, in which Republican challenger, former Lewiston City Councilor Robert Reed, was attempting to unseat Sen. Margaret Craven.
"I'm always so proud and grateful that they trust me representing them in the Senate," Craven said. "I've been out there working since July 7, and the way that I look at things is people are important and we have to honor and respect everybody."
While it looked as thought Democrats would recapture control of the House of Representatives, it was unclear whether they would be able to do the same in the Senate where Republicans held a four-seat majority going into Tuesday's contest.
Craven said that if Democrats captured a majority in both houses or even shifted the balance of power more toward the Democratic side, that would set up a difficult two years for Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
"It would put a peg in the spokes, and that's what we really need, because he is going to be coming down the road with some very, very destructive legislation, especially regarding the budget," Craven said.
It also seemed clear that several new freshman lawmakers would be taking their seats in Augusta in January, including Democrat Nate Libby who won election to Lewiston's House District 73 race. Libby, a city councilor, was opposed by Republican Larry Poulin, former city councilor.
Libby said he would go to Augusta with Lewiston in mind.
"I've said at every door, as I've been going door to door, that I want to be a fierce advocate for the people of my district and for the city of Lewiston," Libby said. "I want to fight for our fair share of revenue and resources from the state and make sure out county and L-A delegation work as a team to bring resources back to Lewiston, because we've been forgotten up there."