Janet Mills (left) and Shawn Moody are both front-runners in the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial races, respectively, according to a recent poll. Credit: Troy R. Bennett (2)

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican Shawn Moody and Democrat Janet Mills are clear front-runners in Maine’s June gubernatorial primaries, while a Democratic 2nd Congressional District primary is effectively tied in the first public ranked-choice poll of Maine’s 2018 primaries.

The poll of nearly 2,200 Mainers shows highly unsettled primaries: In the 2nd District, 31 percent of likely Democratic voters didn’t know who their first choices would be and 24 percent of likely Democratic voters and 22 percent of likely Republican voters were undecided on who their nominees should be to replace to term-limited Gov. Paul LePage.

But Moody, a businessman, and Mills, the Maine attorney general, emerged as clear front-runners in the Republican and Democratic fields. Among likely voters in each party who made first-round choices, Moody was favored by 44 percent and Mills by 41 percent.

The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA, was done between April 26 and May 1, much of it before gubernatorial candidates released initial TV ads. Results were provided to the Bangor Daily News by the ranked-choice voting advocates who paid for it.

The races are fluid. If “undecided” was an option, it would be in second place in both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial fields and more people were undecided in the 2nd District primary than the number who expressed preference for any candidate.

On June 12, Maine will become the first state to use a voter-approved ranked-choice voting system in state and congressional primaries with at least three candidates. At the same time, the state will vote on a people’s veto effort to repeal a law passed by the Legislature that could delay use of the system.

In ranked-choice races, a winner is declared if more than 50 percent of first-choice votes go to one candidate. If not, the candidate with the lowest share of first-place votes is eliminated and their second-place votes are reallocated, a process repeated until a majority is won.

The poll allowed voters to rank choices, which allowed for a simulation of the race under these conditions, though voters who are undecided had to be set aside to do so.

Under that regime, Moody and Mills easily won under a ranked-choice system, though it took a third and final round to declare the Republican winner in a four-way field and a fifth round of voting to declare the Democratic winner in a field of seven candidates.

On the Republican side, Moody used a first-round lead to beat former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew in the final round after also getting a larger share than Mayhew of later-round votes from people who supported Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette.

It worked similarly in the Democratic simulation, in which Mills’ first-round lead was too big for other candidates to overcome. She won a majority in the fifth round of voting over former House Speaker Mark Eves, the runner-up in both the first round of the poll and the simulation. State Sen. Mark Dion and Sanford attorney Adam Cote are eliminated before Eves.

The Democratic race for the nod to face U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, is up in the air. Conservationist Lucas St. Clair edged Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden in the final round, but only by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. Polling began before candidate Jonathan Fulford dropped out of the race and he was included.

Nearly identical portions of voters in both gubernatorial primaries were able to rank a third candidate in each — 52 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans. Only 23 percent of Democrats ranked all seven candidates and 45 percent of Republicans ranked all four.

Four independents are also running for the governor. They weren’t included in this primary-specific poll and only one, Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes, has qualified so far for the November ballot.

This telephone poll was conducted by SurveyUSA and results can be read here. Race-specific polling began with samples of 659 likely Democratic voters and 546 likely Republican voters in the gubernatorial primaries and 217 likely Democratic primary voters in the 2nd District. Those samples had credibility intervals of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points, plus or minus 4.8 percentage points and plus or minus 5.2 percentage points, respectively.

FairVote and the Election Reform Network paid for the poll, which was commissioned for the purpose of voter education by the League of Women Voters of Maine. Those groups support ranked-choice voting. Results were provided for free to the Bangor Daily News, which contributed to the wording of the poll.

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...