Democratic Gov. Janet Mills got emotional Wednesday morning while looking back at her successful reelection campaign – one in which her party overcame national headwinds to also retain control of the Legislature.

The race against her predecessor and political rival, former Gov. Paul LePage, featured record levels of spending for a gubernatorial election, including $18 million in attack ads, some with false claims about Mills’ record.

After winning a second term by a wide margin, Gov. Janet Mills listens to a reporter’s question while meeting with the media outside of Becky’s Diner in Portland on Wednesday morning. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Speaking to reporters in Portland, where she won nearly 87% of the vote, Mills said she was touched by people at polling locations throughout the state who thanked her for her leadership during the pandemic, which she called a “very tough time,” and for expanding MaineCare, which allowed more people to get the health care they need.

“The reception at the polls was as warm as I have ever seen it and I have been involved in many campaigns, for myself and others,” she said, holding back her tears. “The reception was really heartwarming. … It was real.”

Mills, the first woman elected Maine governor, was fresh off a convincing victory over the two-term Republican governor. With 80% of the vote counted, Mills had already surpassed record-breaking vote totals from 2018 of 320,962 by more than 1,000 votes. She led 55% to 43% as counting continued Wednesday evening.

LePage had not conceded to Mills as of Wednesday morning, but he posted a statement in the afternoon saying he accepts the election results. He did not offer any congratulations to Mills.


“I accept the results of yesterday’s election,” LePage said in a Facebook post. “I continue to have grave concerns for the people of Maine over the need for home heating oil relief and efforts to handle inflation. I urge the Governor to take action.”

Voters also rewarded Mills with a Democrat-controlled Legislature, allowing the governor and her party to maintain control of the legislative agenda and important constitutional offices such as the secretary of state, which oversees elections, and the attorney general.

Mills said she has directed her energy office to find ways to help people struggling to heat their homes and that she is committed to working across party lines as she did in her first term. “I am sure that 186 legislators will all have some ideas as well, and I’m eager to listen to them too,” she said.

While not all legislative races were final Wednesday afternoon, Democrats maintained their majority in the Senate by winning 22 seats, including a closely contested race for the District 14 race between incumbent Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, and state Rep. Jeff Hanley, R-Pittston. Hickman won by 98 votes. Republicans captured the other 13 seats.

Democrats and their allies spent big to protect the party’s majority, with outside groups alone dumping more than $4.2 million in races across the state.

Much of that outside spending went into the Senate District 1 race, where Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, fended off a strong challenge from Republican state Rep. Sue Bernard, a longtime local TV anchor. Spending in that race approached $1.1 million, making it the most expensive state senate race in Maine history.


“I’m enormously proud to be a part of this caucus, to show the state what happens when you bet on people like us and what it means to deliver for the Mainers who put their faith and trust in us,” Jackson said Wednesday. “Let’s get to work.”

On the House side, where outside spending topped $2 million, Democrats expanded their majority. With a few races still unresolved, Democrats racked up a net gain of three seats, capturing 80 seats while Republicans won 64 seats.

The results of four races were still unknown Wednesday. Independents captured three seats.

It was unclear Wednesday what Democrats will do with the momentum and the legislative majorities. Mills didn’t make any big promises during the campaign, other than to focus on the ways she and the Legislature can help people struggling to pay high heating and utility costs, and expressing support for a constitutional amendment to preserve a woman’s right to choose an abortion, if needed.

It was also not clear whether Mills will be open to proposals from the progressive flank of her party now that she doesn’t have to worry about reelection. She largely kept progressives at bay during her first term.

“I don’t have an answer to that,” she said. “I try to look at every issue separately, look at every proposal independently and gauge what’s in the best interest of Maine people.”


Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, said Democrats can rightfully claim a mandate on certain issues, such as abortion rights, health care and possibly government aid to municipalities. But Mills also ran heavily on cooperation and bipartisanship, while repeatedly saying she does not support tax increases.

“I think that they therefore do not have a mandate to pursue tax increases or expansions,” Melcher said in an email. “Given that there won’t be new COVID-19 relief from the national government coming, that may make funding new legislative priorities challenging.”

After winning a second term by a wide margin, Gov. Janet Mills speaks with reporters outside Becky’s Diner in Portland on Wednesday morning. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

David Farmer, a Democratic strategist, said heating assistance will likely be a priority for both parties. But after that, it’s anybody’s guess.

Farmer said Mills will see her reelection as vindication of her bipartisan governing style, while Democrats, especially in the House, could feel emboldened to push for more progressive policies, especially if Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland is chosen as speaker.

“I think that dynamic is going to be the thing to watch as the Democrats try to determine how to prioritize the big issues facing the state,” Farmer said.

Mills said she plans to work with the Legislature to address economic concerns of voters.

“We know we have problems to tackle coming up,” Mills said. “Nobody’s minimizing the problems of heating oil prices, gas and groceries and electricity. We’re going to tackle those problems as we have in the past and that means with serious leadership and listening to people and telling the truth.”

When asked how much sleep she got last night, Mills became somewhat poetic, before heading into Becky’s Diner for a stack of pancakes and mounds of bacon.

“Enough to get up today and look at the new dawn and the new day and be pretty excited about things to come,” she said.

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