Democrats have spent a huge sum trying to hold a district representing parts of two Portland suburbs in the Maine House of Representatives ahead of a low-key Tuesday special election featuring three candidates and carrying upset potential.
The seat was vacated by former Rep. Kyle Bailey, D-Gorham, when he resigned in October 2021, leading to a rare early-year Maine election for the remaining year of Bailey’s term representing a large part of Gorham and a sliver of Scarborough before redistricting shifts electoral boundaries statewide by the November 2022 election.
Former state Sen. Jim Boyle, D-Gorham, faces retired Marine Col. Tim Thorsen, the Republican nominee from Gorham, and independent longtime Gorham Town Councilor Suzanne Phillips. Maine’s ranked-choice voting system is not used in general elections for state seats, so the candidate with the most votes will win in what could be a volatile and low-turnout election.
House Democrats’ campaign arm has spent $44,000 boosting Boyle in the district to Republicans’ $6,000, with roughly half the majority party’s money going to paid canvassers. The Democratic sum is more than they spent on any House race in the 2020 cycle.
Both party candidates are also funded well. Boyle, who briefly ran in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, qualified for Maine’s taxpayer-funded Clean Election system, as did Thorsen, a political newcomer who initially filed to run for the seat in November 2022 just before Bailey stepped down. Phillips had spent no money on her campaign as of late December.
The Gorham-centered district has not been particularly competitive in recent elections, with Democrats holding it by double-digit margins in every election since it got its current boundaries ahead of the 2014 election. It looks somewhat closer by voter registration, with Democrats representing 37 percent of the district to Republicans’ 30 percent.
While Maine House Republicans have some momentum after gaining 12 seats on net over Democrats in the 2020 election, they have a poor record in recent special elections, not winning any since 2017 in conservative Lisbon. Most recently in November 2021, Democrat Reagan LaRochelle flipped an Augusta seat held by Republicans since 2012.
Special elections are often seen as a sign of momentum going into the next cycle. The November election is expected to be a difficult one for Democrats nationwide in a midterm year for President Joe Biden, who has seen his approval slip steadily since summer to 42.4 percent in the past week, according to RealClearPolitics polling averages.
BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.