Gov.-elect Janet Mills, center, poses for a selfie with Leah Bruns, left, and Doris Santoro, at Becky's Diner, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Portland, Maine. Mills will be the state's first woman governor. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Good morning from Augusta. The 2018 election was the best in Maine history for women candidates with Attorney General Janet Mills readying to become the state’s first female governor and a record number of women set to serve in the Maine Legislature in 2019.

They did this with high levels of support from women voters, according to Election Day exit polling of more than 1,000 Maine voters by the Bangor Daily News, the electoral reform group FairVote and Colby College. It matched national trends for the 2018 election.

Maine’s two biggest 2018 campaigns saw a double-digit gap among women voters between Democrats and Republicans. Mills ended up winning the governor’s race with 50.6 percent of votes, surpassing Gov. Paul LePage’s 2014 total to win the most votes for governor in Maine history. Her total was nearly 8 percentage points higher than Republican Shawn Moody’s total of 43.2 percent with independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes taking 6 percent of votes.

Mills dominated among women, taking 57.8 percent of their votes to Moody’s 31.7 percent in our exit poll, which was weighted by age and gender to better represent the state’s electorate.

Moody only won narrowly among men, taking 47.4 percent of their votes to Mills’ 45.6 percent. Hayes’ base was largely among women as well, but she only won 8.7 percent of their votes in the exit poll to just 5 percent from men. None of this was enough to harm Mills.

Something similar happened in the race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where a ranked-choice count last week named Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, a Democrat, the winner over U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican who is challenging the voting method in court.

In the exit poll, the gender gap in this race was virtually a mirror image. Golden won 51.2 percent of women to Poliquin’s 39.2 percent in the first round of voting. Poliquin actually did better among men, winning 53.7 percent of their votes to Golden’s 39.2 percent.

But it was the female-dominated group of voters who selected one of the two independents — Tiffany Bond of Portland and Will Hoar of Southwest Harbor — who broke the election for Golden in the second round of counting. Bond won 7.4 percent of women in the first round to just 3 percent of men and her supporters in our exit poll.

Democrats saw similar gender gaps across the country in 2018. This was the first time that the BDN has done Election Day exit polling. (We’ll be aiming to do it again in the future, since it’s a powerful reporting tool that gave us a glimpse into the 2nd District ranked-choice count before it was run.) That means we don’t have past figures to compare our numbers to.

But in congressional races across the country, CNN saw a similar pattern in its exit polling. Democrats won 59 percent of votes from women in those races, a margin that they hadn’t seen in exit polls since 1982, according to The Washington Post.

Exit polling was administered by the Bangor Daily News and paid for by FairVote, a group that supports ranked-choice voting. Polling was conducted by students at eight Maine universities and colleges in 15 municipalities. The pollsters were Nina Mahaleris and Nick Gillert in Bangor, Aaron Lee and Allison Emery in Cumberland, Andrew Blunt in Topsham, Paul Riley in Buxton, Terry Ziccardi in Arundel, Sophie Kaplan in Owls Head, Samantha Clark in Chelsea, Alyce McFadden in Vassalboro, Thomas Young in Jay, Quinn Galletta in Lincoln, Molly Riportella in Sidney, Becca Pelletier in Searsport, Kevin Fitzpatrick in Southwest Harbor, Liam Brinkler in Rangeley and Lucas Dwornik in Kingfield.

Legislative recounts begin today

Recounts have been requested in two Maine House of Representatives districts that look to have been held by incumbents. The first will begin today in the Lewiston race between Rep. James Handy, a Democrat, and Republican Denise Hurilla. She mounted a strong challenge against the incumbent and lost by just 43 votes, according to unofficial results.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office has set that recount in House District 58 for 1 p.m. today. The second one will be at the same time tomorrow for House District 82, where Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth, looks to have held off former Rep. Randall Greenwood, R-Wales, by just 28 votes. Both races are unlikely to shift in recounts, but stranger things have happened.

Reading list

— The next skirmish in the legal battle over ranked-choice voting is set for Dec. 5. U.S District Court Judge Lance Walker will hear further arguments from attorneys representing Poliquin and three others in their lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the ranked-choice voting method used to determine that Poliquin had lost his seat to Golden. Walker previously rejected a request from Poliquin’s legal team for a temporary restraining order to stop counting in the ranked-ballot process approved by Maine voters in 2016 and reaffirmed in another statewide vote this June. Poliquin’s 25-page complaint, filed last week in federal court in Bangor, argued that ranked-choice voting violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees to due process and equal protection and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Last year, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said the method ran afoul of the Maine Constitution as it pertained to statewide general elections, though it cleared the way for ranked-choice voting in the June primaries and didn’t address the method’s use in federal elections. Walker aims to make a ruling by Dec. 14.

— The leadership team for the incoming Legislature is complete. Maine House Democrats elected Reps. Matt Moonen of Portland and Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford to serve as majority leader and assistant majority leader, respectively. They also nominated Rep. Sara Gideon of Freeport to serve another term as House speaker. The Senate and House Republicans had previously picked their leaders.

— Meanwhile, the top two Maine Democratic Party staffers are leaving. The Associated Press reports that Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett and Vice Chairwoman Peggy Schaffer won’t be seeking re-election to their posts. Both state parties elect officers in January.

— A Mainer’s online efforts to tweak conservatives gained national attention. The Washington Post offers an extensive report on how Christopher Blair of North Waterboro fanned conservative conspiracy theories with a “fake news” website he operated from his home. The intent of the satirical site changed after people took his joke stories seriously, making some of them go viral among conservative readers. Blair said he and his followers had gotten hundreds of people banned from Facebook and several others fired or demoted in their jobs for offensive behavior online. He had also forced Facebook to shut down 22 fake news sites for plagiarizing his content, many of which were Macedonian sites that reran his stories without labeling them as satire.

What do I call you?

I will be traveling to Belgium later this week, which might allow me to gain the answer to a question that has plagued me since childhood. It’s quite simple. If people from France are called French, why aren’t people from Belgium called Belch?

Now that I finally have a chance to ask them in person, I hope they won’t waffle on their responses. Here is your soundtrack. And how do you say “good riddance” in Belch? –– Robert Long

Programming note

With my two compatriots leaving for well-deserved Thanksgiving vacations, we’ll scale back the Daily Brief’s schedule this week. You’ll see it on Tuesday, then we’ll go on hiatus through the long weekend and return on Monday, Nov. 26. Here’s our soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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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...