PORTLAND, Maine — Michael Brennan is carrying a heavy advantage to become the first popularly elected Portland mayor in 88 years with 5,240 first choice votes counted on election night.

Competitors Ethan Strimling (4,390 votes) and Nicholas Mavodones (2,938) are still in the running but will need a surge in the day-after tabulations to move into the winner’s seat.

The candidates still face many anxious hours of second choice vote counting Wednesday to determine definitively who will emerge victorious. Using ranked choice voting for the first time, city elections officials will spend Wednesday eliminating lower ranked candidates from contention and reallocating their second place votes as first place tallies — processes known as “instant runoffs” — until one hopeful has more than 50 percent of the votes.

With just first place votes counted on Election Day, Brennan thus far carries an advantage with just under 27 percent, followed by fellow former state senator Strimling with more than 22 percent and current City Council-appointed mayor Mavodones at 15 percent.

“I’m cautiously optimistic at this point, and clearly we’re not going to know anything definitive until tomorrow,” Brennan, who was celebrating with supporters at Empire Dine and Dance on Congress Street, told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday night.

City councilor David Marshall remains a dark horse in the race with just under 8 percent in fourth place (1,516 votes). Political newcomer Jed Rathband, who ran a spirited campaign highlighted by an endorsement from the Portland Community Chamber’s political action committee, is a near statistical impossibility to win after gathering the fifth most first place votes Tuesday (1,394 votes, just more than 7 percent).

The crowded mayoral ballot has 15 names on it. The initial stage of vote counting Tuesday mimics the results projected a week ago in a Maine People’s Resource Center poll. That exercise, which surveyed nearly 500 “likely voters” by telephone and then simulated a slate of instant runoffs using the respondents’ top picks, found that Brennan extended his early lead through the elimination rounds.

The poll found Brennan to have a high percentage of second place votes as well, with Strimling and Mavodones failing to bridge the gap as the No. 2 choices of lower ranked candidates were redistributed.

Whether the poll mimics reality, however, remains to be seen. Strimling and Mavodones remained optimistic about their chances with second choice votes due to be calculated.

“We’re still within striking distance, and we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow,” Mavodones said Tuesday night among his supporters at the Porthole Restaurant. “The atmosphere is good here. People are upbeat.”

Strimling held his Election Night rally at Havana South on Wharf Street.

“I’m hanging in there,” Strimling said. “We’re ready to go into the instant runoff. We’re looking forward to going through the next round.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.