Gray has long supported Republicans for governor but was one of many small communities flipped by Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

GRAY — On Election Day, Jade Costello cast her first gubernatorial ballot in Maine, voting for Democrats down the line, including newly reelected Gov. Janet Mills, because she believes they will best protect the civil rights of her two young children.

Costello is a Maine native, and grew up in a conservative family, but the 38-year-old spent years away as she worked her way up the teaching ladder. She came back to Maine four years ago to raise her kids, and now lives in Gray and is assistant principal at Gray-New Gloucester High School.

“I think all the candidates wanted what they thought would be best for Maine, but they had very different ideas about what that was,” Costello said as she dropped off her 7-year-old daughter at class at Studio for the Living Arts on Thursday night. “I want my children to grow up in an inclusive world.”

New voters like Costello might help explain why Republican strongholds like Gray, which hadn’t favored a Democrat for governor in two decades, went blue this year. Mills beat Republican Paul LePage here 50% to 48%.

This shift helped Mills turn what pundits had predicted to be a toss-up race into an outright shellacking.

Gray was not alone. Each red-to-blue flip may have its own reasons, and could flop back next cycle. But a quick glance at a map of Maine gubernatorial election results reveals a number of towns once considered a GOP lock were lost, such as Raymond or Windham or Bridgton.


Real estate agents like Cathy Manchester, a longtime Gray resident who now lives in nearby Pownal, say many young, high-earning families are moving to Gray and turning it into another suburb of Portland, like a Falmouth. The average home price in October was $488,000, she said.

That demographic shift is creating a less partisan, more moderate electorate that could vote Republican or Democrat, depending on the candidates, said Manchester, who served briefly on the Town Council and ran as a Republican candidate for Legislature before moving out.

“I think it will trend toward swing or stay blue,” Manchester said. “I don’t see Gray any longer as that far-right Republican community. They might remain a fiscally conservative community with less right-wing social values.”

Kari Harriman, owner of the Gray Laundromat, worries about inflation and voted for Paul LePage. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

That doesn’t sit well with Kari Harriman, the owner of Gray Laundromat. Harriman was born here, and her parents used to run the local hardware store. The diehard Republican couldn’t believe that Gray had voted for Mills, whom Harriman blames for the rising price of almost everything.

In the last year, her electricity bill has increased from $320 to $870 a month, despite no increase in use, Harriman said. She has taken steps to be more economical, but said that she had no choice but to raise her prices – twice. She will probably have to do it again.

“That’s what happens when you vote in Democrats,” Harriman said. “The little guy ends up paying.”


Her clerk, Karole Bowlds, nods her head at what her boss is saying, but said she voted for Mills anyway. The two women smile as they acknowledge their political differences. Bowlds said she doesn’t know if a governor can do much about worldwide inflation, but said she doesn’t like LePage.

“I don’t think he’s very nice, I’ll just say that,” Bowlds said, chin in hand as she stood behind the counter.

Karole Bowlds, a clerk at the Gray Laundromat who voted for Mills, said LePage isn’t very nice. “I’ll just say that.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Longtime state Rep. Sue Austin, R-Gray, said it was too soon to say whether the town’s leftward lurch on Tuesday was a permanent political shift. She has met many young families new to the area, with children who attend the same schools as six of her 12 grandchildren.

But Austin believes the attack ads from outside groups portraying LePage as a temperamental bully who wants to take away a woman’s access to legal abortion – which she believed distorted his position – pushed moderate swing voters toward Mills.

“He really looked terribly scary,” said Austin, a LePage supporter, before she spent the afternoon decking out the front porch in red, white and blue in honor of Veterans Day. “To our young women, (abortion) is a significant issue for them.”

Sue Austin, a longtime Republican legislator who could not run for reelection because of term limits, said she thinks negative ads attacking Paul LePage are part of the reason Gray flipped. Austin recently gathered up the campaign signs she had put up to support her party’s candidates. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Town Council Chairwoman Sandra Carder, a Democrat, has noticed a “huge amount of change” in Gray, including new faces showing up at a recent block party to discuss the future of the downtown.


“We have always had our core group of longtime residents who are always active and they’re still coming, but we did see a whole group of new residents who have never been to a meeting,” she said. “And they’re looking for a way to get involved.”

But Carder said she also believes abortion played a key role in the Mills-LePage results, at least in Gray. “We’re talking about fundamental women’s rights.”

Sandra Carder, chairwoman of Gray’s Town Council, said she has noticed many new faces getting involved in town. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The demographic and political changes people are feeling on the downtown streets and in the businesses and schools that serve the growing town of 8,300 are also supported by the data.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects Gray’s population will grow 16.7% from 2010 to 2030. And while that kind of change can be challenging, Gray has experienced more explosive growth before in the not-so-distant past – the population more than doubled from 1970 to 1990.

Some of the newcomers – like the barber trimming hair at a downtown plaza, the divorcee still learning how to bleach stains out of his T-shirt at the laundromat or parents waiting in idling cars to pick up their children at Russell School – didn’t vote at all.

Lisa Moore, 29, just moved to Gray with her boyfriend from Portland. They rent a small house but want to buy – if they can find one in their price range. She is a graphic designer who works from home and her boyfriend makes the 20-minute commute to his job in Portland.


They have not lived in Gray long enough to forge a local network, she said. Portland is so close that they may keep working, shopping and playing there, while mostly sleeping and hiking the wooded trails in this new hometown. They have met a few other friendly transplants while hiking, she said.

“In my head, we still feel like we’re from Portland, and my boyfriend still votes like he’s from Portland,” Moore said as she wrapped up a late afternoon walk in Whitney Memorial Forest with her dog. “I didn’t get my papers filed in time, but he did, and he voted Mills. He hates LePage.”

They are starting to realize they may want to keep some of their “snowflake ways” private, she said. Moore said her boyfriend was shocked when he went to vote at Newbegin Community Center and some young people whom he had been chatting with got excited when they heard LePage had made an Election Day stop in Gray.

“He thought they were being sarcastic,” Moore said. “They were not. It got awkward.”

A lone LePage sign remains along Brown and Yarmouth streets in Gray on Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Jeff “Jay” Smith, 50, is unenrolled in a political party and has lived in Gray since 2000. A small-business owner, Smith said he voted for LePage in 2010 because of his business background and his conservative approach to the state budget, but could not support him in 2014. He voted for Mills on Tuesday.

 “A politician can’t be rude and ignorant,” Smith said, while seated at the bar at Jess ‘n Nic’s Pizzeria & Pub, sipping a beer out of his numbered black-and-white mug club stein. “I don’t have a lot to say about Janet Mills. I just think she’s the lesser of two evils.”


Before heading into Cook’s Ace Hardware, Robert Staples, a 61-year-old warehouse worker, explained why he had voted straight Democratic this year, including for Mills. He is a registered Democrat, but he has voted for Republicans, too, including Ronald Reagan and both Bushes for president.

Staples said he dislikes both the progressives on the left and the extremists on the right. “So I voted Democratic down the board to basically save democracy – that was a huge issue also.”

Alison Lebar, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom, said she leans conservative, but didn’t want to say how she voted because of the tense political environment. Given the town’s political evolution, Lebar wasn’t surprised that Mills had won in Gray.

The demographics of our town have gotten a lot more liberal,” said Lebar, who was at the playground behind town hall with a 4-month-old strapped to her chest while another child played in the afternoon sun. “You can tell by the people in the schools and the people getting involved.”

Alison Lebar of Gray pushes Maisie, 3, on the swings at the playground near the Pennell Municipal Complex in Gray on Thursday. She is also holding 4-month-old Tillie. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Lonnie Leeman, who runs a local counseling center, is heartened by these recent demographic changes. He and his late husband moved from Greater Portland to Gray in 2001, and said the newcomers helped make Gray a better place to live by prioritizing schools, open space and inclusivity.

“I know Janet (Mills), so, yes, I voted for her, but I would have anyway because I usually vote Democrat,” said Leeman, out for a walk. “There weren’t many of us when we first moved here, but we are growing in number. And there are a lot of independents moving in that are voting Democrats, too.”


On paper, Rick Thornton should’ve been a LePage supporter. The 69-year-old retired veteran is anti-abortion, pro-business and wants to stop government “handouts” to able-bodied people who should be out working for one of the many Maine businesses looking for employees, he said.

Yet Thornton, who was waiting at the front of a line of cars outside Fiddlehead School of Arts & Sciences to pick up his granddaughter, admitted he had voted Democratic across the board this year, the first time the lifelong Republican had ever done that.

“LePage, he had some good ideas, at least on paper, but I wish he could have been more of a gentleman,” he said. “I don’t think Gov. Mills is going to do that great of a job, to tell the truth. But LePage had his chance, and I think he would have brought the party down.”

Thornton said he thinks Gray has changed as a result of the in-migration of new residents, as has Maine as a whole. Sometimes people choose to move to a place that shares their values, like Thornton did back in 1979. But sometimes, he said, newcomers bring their old ways with them.

“We did it like this back home so let’s do it this way here, too,” he said. “We see a lot of that here.”

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this story.

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