Former two-term Gov. Paul LePage, with his wife, Ann, speaks at an Election Night event in Lewiston. The Republican challenger lost to the incumbent Gov. Janet Mills by 13 points as he hemorrhaged support, even in GOP strongholds. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA – On the eve of Tuesday’s midterm elections, Mainers had reason to expect Republicans might break the Democrats’ grip on state government and pick up one of the state’s two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Instead, Paul LePage, the party’s standard-bearer for the past 12 years, was defeated in a humiliating double-digit landslide, losing ground across much of the state compared with his handpicked 2018 nominee, Shawn Moody. His ally, two-time U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, performed even worse than he did across the 2nd Congressional District, and is likely to lose his closely-watched rematch with incumbent Jared Golden by more than five points when ranked-choice ballots are tabulated early this week. The Republican party actually lost seats in the state Legislature.

It was an election where all the “fundamentals” political analysts talk about were in their favor: a midterm election with an unpopular Democratic president and eyewatering 8 percent inflation. And yet Republicans lost ground – both numerically and geographically – as a blue tide slowly advanced into the interior from the coastal towns.

“Despite a favorable environment, Republicans in Maine really fell flat and I don’t blame anything other than the fact that the Republicans put up Paul LePage again as their chief banner holder,” said Lance Dutson, a Republican political consultant and former aide to Sen. Susan Collins. “He’s never been a 50 percent-plus-one political figure in Maine and when he finally had a chance to go head-to-head in a race without a spoiler, he got smoked.”

“Like we saw with Trump, the LePage apparatus has been a vengeful and destructive force within the Republican Party,” Dutson added. “And people who decided to run in the Legislature have had to don the banner of LePage-ism, too, which I think is why they had trouble as well.”

Gov. Janet Mills celebrates her reelection victory at an event hosted by the Maine Democratic Party at Aura in Portland on Tuesday. Mills, who won nearly every town that touches the sea from Kittery to Hancock in 2018, flipped even more communities farther inland in this election cycle. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Nationally, the midterms were a rebuke of the Trumpian version of the Republican Party, with the former president’s favored candidates and closest allies losing contests across the country even as more moderate Republicans like Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu won reelection by wide margins. In Maine they revealed LePage-ism has likely exhausted itself as a political force, leaving the party he seized control of in the 2010s to reconsider its direction.


“Hopefully this is a wakeup call for Republicans,” said former Maine Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry, longtime chief of staff to Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe. “The lack of gains at the state level this year is a reflection of the fact that the Republican brand is so weak right now – a party that has given up even having a national platform because it was all about fealty to Donald Trump. And other than the most loyal Trumpist followers, who does that appeal to?”

Republican performance up and down the ballot was weaker than most observers expected. LePage – whose allies run the state party – lost to incumbent Gov. Janet Mills by 13 points as he hemorrhaged support in Greater Portland, coastal York County, Lewiston and Greater Bangor compared with Moody’s 2018 run. Mills – who in 2018 won nearly every town that touches the sea from Kittery to Hancock – advanced into the first and second tiers of towns inland from the coast, flipping places like the Berwicks, Gorham, Windham, Gray, Durham, Wiscasset, Bucksport and Dedham. She flipped Norway and Bridgton in the Oxford foothills, Hampden and Brewer in Greater Bangor, and dramatically widened her margins in Portland and its suburbs. LePage’s flips were limited to the Upper Saint John Valley and a cluster of towns around Jay, Livermore Falls and Fayette in west Central Maine.


“The thing I’ve always found mystifying about LePage is that after finding … a plurality is enough to win an election with a strong independent in the race, he never seemed interested in growing his base,” said Ronald Schmidt Jr., associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, referencing LePage’s 2010 and 2014 wins with independent Eliot Cutler sharing the ballots. “You’re seeing what happens when that independent isn’t there to play the spoiler role.”

A man who did not want to give a name checks results at an election night results party for gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In a closely-watched U.S. House race, Poliquin underperformed LePage in almost every town in the 2nd District, trailing the former governor’s count by triple digits in more than 50 communities from Madawaska, Caribou, Dover-Foxcroft and Skowhegan to Lewiston, Auburn, Bangor and Brewer. Poliquin fell short of his own 2018 performance against Golden by hundreds of votes in many of the district’s larger towns, including Lewiston, Auburn, Winthrop, Bangor, Orono and Bucksport.

Raye, who lost the 2014 2nd District nomination to Poliquin, says this time around the former congressman was up against a known quantity in Democrat Jared Golden, who made a favorable comparison in the eyes of many voters there. “Golden has really positioned himself in much the same way Olympia (Snowe) was positioned in her 16 years representing the 2nd District,” he says. “He has a D after his name instead of an R but otherwise, in my view, he is very much like Olympia was.”


Brent Littlefield, LePage’s longtime political adviser, did not respond to an interview request and a request to interview LePage about his views of the race.

In his short remarks on election night as it became clear he had lost, LePage lashed out at Mills, saying she was dishonest and uncaring. Of his own shortcomings, he said only: “We missed the message. It’s about abortion, not about heating oil.”

Democratic political consultant David Farmer, a former deputy chief of staff to Gov. John Baldacci who, like Dutson, did not work for any candidates this year, said the marquee races – LePage versus Mills and Poliquin versus Golden – offered voters an unusually clear choice of direction given that each featured a well-known incumbent and a challenger who had previously held the same office for two terms. This made national “fundamentals” less powerful at the top of the ticket, he argues, which carried over to the legislative races down ballot.

“There was no mystery as to what a third LePage term would look like or what a second Mills term would look like, so that gave voters a very clear choice,” Farmer says. “They knew what they would be getting and what they decided is the steady, bipartisan leadership style of Gov. Mills was much preferable to the chaos that would come with another LePage term.”

The crowd applauds as Gov. Janet Mills makes her acceptance speech during an event hosted by the Maine Democratic Party at Aura in Portland on Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In the state Legislature, Democrats retained control of both houses for a third straight election cycle, meaning they will have at least six years of uninterrupted control of both the legislative and executive branches.

They retained their previous 22-13 majority in the Senate, with once-and-future Sen. President Troy Jackson of Allagash fending off a high-profile challenge by Republican Sue Bernard. That race drew over $1 million in spending, an unprecedented figure in legislative history.


Democrats extended their advantage in the 151-seat House from 76 total seats to at least 82, plus two Democratic-leaning independents. Control of the Legislature also ensures Democrats will continue to hold the state’s three constitutional offices: attorney general, state treasurer and secretary of state, who oversees elections.

“For the legislative candidates, it really helps when the candidates from the top of the ticket do well, and that’s part of what we saw here,” University of New England political scientist Brian Duff said.

Dutson thinks Republicans need to rethink their brand and direction and return to a more moderate standpoint.

“LePage’s career is toast, that’s the end of the show. Now we need to find candidates who can talk to people who aren’t in the right-wing echo chamber,” he says. “If it devolves into Trumpist, isolationist, vitriolic anger politics, then it’s going to be a long road ahead.”

“It’s tough for the Republican Party to lose the way they did, but one of the things that free-market Republicans believe in is the concept of creative destruction, and I think the first step in that is for LePage to be off the stage,” Dutson adds.

Raye agrees.

“To have long-term success in the future, the Maine Republican Party needs to get back to its roots, back to having a strong economic message and leaving behind the election denialism and the harsh right-wing policies on social issues that are just not ever going to sell to the people of Maine,” he says. “It’s got to return to talking about the issues that actually have an impact on people’s lives.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story