Gov. Janet Mills’ voice swelled with emotion last week as she stepped up on a small stage in Portland’s Monument Square in front of about 200 fired-up supporters and vowed to defend a woman’s right to have a legal abortion in Maine.

“It’s time for us to make a little noise, because we have one week left – seven days to get out the vote,” said the Farmington Democrat, who four years ago became the first woman elected to Maine’s top office.

Gov. Janet Mills fires up the crowd during a rally in Monument Square in Portland on Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

On the final Friday of the campaign, Paul LePage – the tough-talking Republican who preceded Mills and now wants to unseat her – styled himself as a defender of Maine’s pocketbook during a series of campaign stops and radio interviews.

“I’m a businessman,” LePage told WLOB-1310 AM. “I took over the reins in 2011, when Maine was under the greatest recession hitting this country. I left the governorship the most prosperous it had been in 60 years. I did it once. I can do it again.”

Former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks at Dysart’s Restaurant and Truck Stop in Hermon on Wednesday while campaigning with former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who is seeking to regain the 2nd Congressional District seat he lost in 2018. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Mills and LePage, both 74-year-olds well known to Maine voters, are spending the final days of the 2022 gubernatorial campaign crisscrossing the state, trying to court a relatively small pool of still undecided voters while also mobilizing their diehard supporters to turn out Tuesday.

The last-minute barnstorming comes at the end of the closely watched but remarkably low-key campaign between two of Maine’s political heavyweights who share a history of clashing with each other, dating back to when Mills served as attorney general while LePage was governor.


At $27 million and counting, it will wind up the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in state history.

The huge spending – about $20 million of it by outside groups not affiliated with a candidate – resulted in a relentless stream of attack ads on TV, radio and social media. But on the campaign trail, Mills and LePage skipped large public rallies in favor of small targeted events with hand-picked crowds and little media coverage, minimizing the chance for gaffes or counter demonstrations.

Aside from the well-funded outside groups, Mills has raised and spent $5.5 million compared to LePage’s $2.2 million. Sam Hunkler of Beals, the longshot independent  who was left out of most of the five debates because of low poll numbers, has spent just $4,000.


On Wednesday, on an unseasonably warm November afternoon, LePage stood in front of an oil tanker outside Dysart’s Restaurant and Truck Stop off I-95 in Hermon to sound the Republican Party alarm over the rising cost of home heating and what it could do to poor and even middle-class Mainers this winter.

Former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks at Dysart’s Restaurant and Truck Stop in Hermon on Wednesday while campaigning with former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Shouting over passing diesel trucks, LePage claimed Mills wasn’t doing enough to keep Mainers warm.


She hadn’t talked President Biden into releasing heating oil from the federal stockpile, hadn’t signed a waiver to let high-sulfur heating oil be sold in Maine – which would increase the supply and drive down prices – and hadn’t signed a waiver to let truckers work extra hours to get the oil here from Canada, he said.

“I know Janet Mills feels inflation is a distraction, but I’m going to tell you heating oil and diesel, it’s a real crisis,” LePage said. “This is not about the green new deal. This is about people dying. This winter, we need to protect Mainers. This is going to be a serious, serious crisis.”

Heating oil was selling for $5.42 a gallon here last week, LePage said – 70 percent higher than in 2021.

Peter Mourmouras takes a photo of former Gov. Paul LePage with Marc and Stephanie Roy, owners of Northeast Transmission in Biddeford, with their daughter Calea at their repair shop on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In small group settings, conservatives will often draw LePage into a discussion of social issues, such as abortion, vaccination backlash or what they describe as the radicalization of public school curriculum, but on a public stage, LePage returns again and again to economic issues in hopes of wooing the undecideds.

LePage is quick to remind voters that he grew up poor, and was even homeless for two years as a pre-teen in Lewiston.

“Janet just doesn’t get how hard it can be,” LePage said, shaking his head. “Not like I do. I’ve lived it.”


Mills responded to the heating oil criticism last week, saying she is already doing the things that LePage suggested at Dysarts, and more. She has asked the federal authorities to pinpoint which sulfur waiver is required. She has granted the driver waivers before and will likely do it again, and she joined other New England governors to push for a stockpile opening, she said.


On Tuesday, Mills visited Central Maine Community College in Auburn to highlight two top achievements – two years of free tuition to students impacted by the pandemic and passage of her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, which will invest nearly $1 billion in one-time federal pandemic funding.

Gov. Janet Mills talks with Mike Adler, an HVAC instructor at Central Maine Community College, in Auburn on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Both the community college and the recovery plan received bipartisan support in the Legislature – a key campaign theme for Mills, who has spent much of the fall touring the state to unveil round after round of grants to a range of industries, like child care, manufacturing and small business.

At CMMC, she toured a new welding lab made possible by $950,000 from the Maine Job & Recovery Plan and spoke to students in the school’s HVAC lab.

“We need more plumbers. We need more HVAC techs,” Mills declared as she chatted with students cutting copper pipes, their voices were barely discernible over the whirl of pipe-threaders and power drills.


Outside the lab, Mills spoke with a half-dozen students studying fields ranging from law enforcement to nursing to construction. One called the tuition relief program a deciding factor in returning to school. Another said the money saved on tuition would help him start his own business. Several called it a welcome bonus.

Gov. Janet Mills talks with students at Central Maine Community College in Auburn on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As Mills was leaving the lab, 20-year-old Daniel Bizimana, who is in the plumbing and heating program, had his picture taken with Mills. He told her that the $850 inflation relief check he received from the state helped him catch up on some bills.

“I’m a huge fan,” he said. “I wanted to say ‘hi’ and thank her.”

Mills turned to leave, a big smile across her face.

The relief checks are a recurring campaign topic. Mills has repeatedly touted the checks – a Republican idea that she embraced – as one of the best inflation relief measures in the United States and something Mainers constantly thank her for. LePage, on the other hand, has called them a gimmick to buy the election and a decision that only increases inflation.



For a nationally watched race, the Mills-LePage duet is playing out on an incredibly small local stage. Neither candidate has stood side by side with a president, past or present, in this election cycle. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin are the biggest names to visit the state, both for LePage.

James Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine in Farmington, thinks Mills and LePage are being cautious. They may want to keep campaign details quiet to play to friendly audiences and prevent people from organizing counter-protests that could distract or lead to blow-ups.

“Both Paul LePage and Janet Mills are people that elicit some strong negative feelings,” Melcher said.

Former Gov. Paul LePage talks with Pam Padget, owner of Alisson’s Restaurant in Kennebunkport, during a campaign stop at the restaurant on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As governor and former governor, Mills and LePage can campaign on their records while tearing apart that of their rival. But both also faced unexpected external challenges: Voters don’t know how Mills would manage an economic downturn without COVID relief funds, or how LePage would act in a post-Roe world when states have the power to regulate abortion.

LePage has offered up a few big policy proposals here and there, such as phasing out the income tax, but he has tried some of these before and failed to win approval from the Legislature, including when Republicans were in control.

Dan Shea, the chair of Colby College’s government department, said Mills is leaning on the power of incumbency – a sitting governor hasn’t lost reelection since Republican John Reed lost in 1967 – while LePage is tempering his combative instincts to attract swing voters, something his campaign is calling LePage 2.0.


“To knock off an incumbent without any dramatic problem, you have to attract moderate voters and that’s what they have been trying to do with LePage 2.0,” Shea said. “But he was in office for eight years and Mills’ camp won’t let you forget about it.”

Melcher credits LePage for stifling his more bombastic instincts in hopes of picking up moderate votes.

“His strong supporters who love him for the harsh rhetoric – what they see as him telling it like it is – are going to be with him anyway,” Melcher said. “He’s got to put a lot more emphasis on appealing to people more in the middle. I think that’s been a wise strategy on his part.”


The campaign has unfolded against a rapidly evolving backdrop of national and international tumult.

Last year, it seemed the governor’s race would be a referendum on the Mills administration’s handling of the pandemic, which included business shutdowns, remote school learning, and mask and vaccine mandates. Mills has touted the state’s high vaccination rate and low death rate, while LePage criticized Mills for ruling with “an iron fist” and even cited it as a reason for returning.


But the pandemic began to fade from voters’ minds in the spring of 2022, replaced by pocketbook issues such as rising prices as Russia invaded Ukraine and Mainers began to feel the pinch.

Gov. Janet Mills speaks during a rally in Monument Square in Portland on Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

While the issues gave Republicans, including those here in Maine, reason to hope for a strong showing in the mid-terms, the race shifted again in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right to abortion. It outraged and catalyzed Democrats.

That dynamic seems to have played out here in Maine. Spring polling showed a virtual dead heat in the Mills-LePage race, but most public polls since September have shown Mills ahead, some by 10 percentage points or more. Conservative voters tend to be underrepresented in such polling, and none of the polls can predict what will happen Tuesday.

Jean Yarborough, a political philosophy professor at Bowdoin College, cautioned against taking the Mills’ polling lead at face value.

She noted that polls showed U.S. Sen. Susan Collins trailing Democrat Sarah Gideon in 2020, many by double digits, but Collins ended up winning by a comfortable margin. And she cited a recent national poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal that showed suburban women are making a late break toward Republicans, who have criticized lagging test scores and lessons of gender identity and racism.



At the Portland rally, Mills contrasted her record as a staunch defender of abortion access – having expanded who can perform abortions and requiring public and private insurance to cover abortions – with LePage, whom she said has flip-flopped on the issue and can’t be trusted.

“We know what Paul LePage will do no matter what he says from one day to the next,” Mill said, eliciting boos from the crowd. “We know better. We know when the bill to restrict women’s rights makes it to his desk, he’s going to sign it, even if he doesn’t say it out loud right now.”

The overturning of Roe v. Wade has made abortion access a right that depends on who gets elected in Maine, she said.

“So long as I am governor, you can be damn sure my veto pen will stand in the way of any and all efforts to undermine, rollback or outright eliminate the right to abortion in our state,” Mills said. “I have never backed down from a fight either and with the stakes so high you can be damn sure I’m not about to.”

Gov. Janet Mills talks with Marc Gilbert, an HVAC instructor at Central Maine Community College, in Auburn on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

LePage as governor attended anti-abortion rallies and continues to have the support of anti-abortion advocates. But he has repeatedly said on the campaign trail he would not support changing Maine’s current law, which permits abortions until a fetus is viable.

LePage told garage workers in Biddeford on Friday that his campaign is gaining traction with suburban moms despite the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling. They are responding to both his economic message and his proposal to give parents a louder, more formal voice in their children’s schools.


Yarborough said that trend, plus rising economic fears heading into winter, will likely help Republicans.

“As a political scientist, you say the difference between June and November is an eternity,” she said. “Now you have issues like home heating oil and the soaring price of electricity and inflation … So, these are all issues that I think play to the candidate who is not in power.”

Mills, meanwhile, has also focused on education, touting her bipartisan work with the Legislature to fully fund public education at the voter-mandated 55% for the first time. And she has argued that parents and local school boards already decide what happens in schools, and the state shouldn’t interfere.


During his campaign stop in Brunswick, an exhausted Jennifer Johnson pleaded with LePage to find a way to eke out a win.

The business owner said she was taking a rare break from working 10 hours a day, seven days a week to ask LePage to cut business taxes and implement reforms to help get more able-bodied people back to work.


“It really all goes back to taxes – we are overtaxed in every way, shape and form,” Johnson told him. “We need common sense … I am ticked off at the state of Maine. I could go on and on, but I beg you, Gov. LePage, I beg you to win.”

Former Gov. Paul LePage laughs while talking with Richard Pate at a campaign stop in Biddeford on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Attendees of the abortion rights rally in Portland, meanwhile, had mixed emotions ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

“I feel pretty confident but there’s always that nervousness,” Portland resident Caitlin Sellhorn said after the rally. “The election of Donald Trump – I still have nightmares about that. I was pretty confident Hillary (Clinton) was going to win, so that’s going to haunt me forever.”

A psychiatric nurse, Sellhorn said she is concerned about behavioral health care and the rights of LGBTQ people, as well as abortion rights. After thinking about everything that’s on the line Tuesday, she concluded: “I hope everybody votes.”

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