With the June primaries behind them, Maine’s major political parties — Democrats and Republicans — are now working to heal any lingering hard feelings from what’s been some very heated races — especially in the state’s giant 2nd U.S. Congressional District.

Every State House seat and the governor’s office is also up for grabs this year and the parties, which together managed to turn out less than 10 percent of the state’s registered voters, are both now looking to not only bolster their winning candidates, but also to seize on campaign themes that will help them engage many more voters in the fall.

Both parties also made attempts to spin the Maine media away from Tuesday’s dismal turnout numbers — even lower than the last time they faced an open primary for a Congressional District in 2002.

Republicans crowed that Tuesday’s Second District voter turnout for their side was higher than the Democrats. 

“GOP Crushes Dems in CD-2 Voter Turnout,” said a headline on a news release issued by Maine Republican Party Spokesman David Sorensen.

Based on unofficial results, Sorensen rightfully noted that Democrats produced 7,000 fewer voters Tuesday than his side did.

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But what Sorensen didn’t mention was that Republican turnout was down by more than 4,500 voters compared to 2002.

Democrats, Sorensen also should have noted, produced a whopping 12,000 fewer voters than they did just 12 years earlier. Together the parties came up short more than 16,500 partisans.

Sorensen suggested GOP turnout was a bellwether of a conservative uprising, but a closer look at some of the results tells another story.

In Lewiston, for example, Democrats outpaced Republicans by 596 voters and in neighboring Auburn, Democrats mustered 172 more voters than their GOP counterparts.

The GOP primary winner in the 2nd District race, Bruce Poliquin, won just 94 more votes than the losing Democrat, Troy Jackson, in Lewiston.

In Oxford County’s largest town, Rumford, Democrats outpaced Republicans by a more than 3:1 margin and Jackson, who also lost on the Democratic side in that town, still picked up 87 more votes than the winning Republican, Poliquin.

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To be fair, in the more conservative town of Oxford, Poliquin received twice as many votes (160) as Jackson and the Democratic primary winner, state Sen. Emily Cain of Orono, combined (79 votes).

To vote or not to vote?

Meanwhile, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant tried to make hay over the fact that incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent candidate Eliot Cutler both did not vote in Tuesday’s primary.

“Leadership is more than talking the talk,” Grant said in a prepared statement. “We need a Governor who leads by example, too.”

Both LePage and Cutler said they decided not to vote because the only choice they had to make on their ballots were on local school budgets that appeared destined to pass anyway. It was likely the way many in Grant’s own party felt as they too decided to “skip out” — as the headline on Grant’s release described LePage and Cutler’s inaction — on Tuesday’s voting.

Of course, their candidate, Maine’s current 2nd District U.S. Congressman Mike Michaud, was among the few Democrats to dutifully cast a ballot Tuesday.

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“Should (Cutler) have voted?” wrote his campaign manager, Ted O’Meara, in a message to the Sun Journal. “Sure, but his failure to do so hardly rises to the level of Ben Grant’s hysteria. However, I suppose when you are trying to make a candidate who has been named one of the most obscure members of Congress appear to be a leader, any issue will do.”

Cutler said one of the most significant facts from the primary election was “how few people voted” in a contested primary for a U.S. House seat. It shows, Cutler said, how distrusting of party politics Maine voters have become.

Pot smoke and mirrors

In another twist — no pun intended — a pair of Androscoggin County Republicans announced their support for making recreational marijuana legal in Lewiston. Stavros Mendros, a former state representative and former Lewiston City Councilor, said he didn’t think smoking pot was a good idea and didn’t do it himself but said he supported legalizing the weed for recreation so adults could decide for themselves.

Mendros, the current chairman of the Androscoggin County Republicans, was joined by Maine House District 58 candidate Luke Jensen, who also said he supported legalizing marijuana for adults.

Jensen is challenging incumbent state Rep. Michel Lajoie, a Democrat and former Lewiston Fire Chief. Lajoie is an opponent of legalizing marijuana, as is Lewiston’s conservative mayor, Robert Macdonald. 

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Ironically, Maine Democrats at their state convention in May voted to add support of legalization to the party’s platform.  

The new plank reads: “Supports the legalization of marijuana for adults 21 years and older while protecting minors from its use.”

A stunning 75 percent of Democratic delegates supported the decision.

There’s no similar language in the state Republican Party platform.

Hats off to candidates who did show up

Unlike some of the high-profile candidates, local candidates for State House offices — most without primary challengers — from both parties did turn out to vote in their local elections Tuesday.

Many also spent much, if not all, of the day at their polling places greeting voters and constituents. While their dedication is admirable, given the overall low turnout Tuesday, the effectiveness of their efforts remains undetermined.

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