AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives put Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon on track for the chamber’s top spot on Friday, nominating her to succeed the term-limited House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick.

Gideon, 44, was the odds-on favorite for the speaker’s chair after Democrats held their majority in the chamber in the November election. Republicans picked up three seats, cutting that majority to 77-72 with two independents.

A formal vote to name the new speaker will come among the entire House on Dec. 7, the day that the next Legislature will be sworn in. Republicans can contest it, but they would be virtually certain to lose.

Democrats also named Rep. Erin Herbig of Belfast as House majority leader, replacing the outgoing Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, with Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston replacing Gideon as assistant leader.

The election on Nov. 8 wasn’t good for Democrats: President-elect Donald Trump stormed to an upset win over Democrat Hillary Clinton aided by an elector from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which split with the rest of the state for the first time, Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin won re-election there and Republicans held a majority in the Maine Senate.

Gideon, who is entering her third term in Augusta, was central to key policy fights in the last session, including as the champion of a solar policy bill that died after a veto from Gov. Paul LePage and her political action committee spent nearly $78,000 to elect Democrats this year.

Now, she’ll be the Legislature’s main voice of opposition to LePage in his last two years in office, as Democrats look to take back the Blaine House. Their challenge is in rural areas, where she said Democrats are “not acknowledging our working poor” adequately. She said Democrats must also block “terrible policies” from LePage.

“The Maine people spoke loud and clear and because of the work that all of you have done to get here today, the governor will be facing the strength of our Democratic House majority,” she said in a speech.

In a secret ballot vote for the party’s nomination, Gideon beat Reps. Gay Grant of Gardiner and Craig Hickman of Winthrop. Herbig, who co-chairs the Legislature’s labor committee, beat Rep. Walter Kumiega of Deer Isle, while Golden, a veteran of the Marine Corps who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was unopposed for his leadership post.

That sets the leadership slate for the session starting in January 2017. Republicans re-elected Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport and his leadership team last week, with House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport also returning for Republicans.

Troy Jackson of Allagash will be Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate, and Nate Libby of Lewiston will assist him.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...