The Blaine House in Augusta. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s 2022 gubernatorial race has not kicked into high gear yet, although early fundraising by both candidates compares favorably to previous elections with the specter of more national money on the way.

Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, reported raising just over $1 million in the second half of 2021, leaving her with a bit shy of $1.3 million cash on hand, while former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, reported just under $900,000 raised and roughly $600,000 in his account.

Those totals set records compared to fundraising by previous gubernatorial candidates at this stage in the election, though candidates in more populous states released higher figures Tuesday. Fundraising numbers are all but certain to climb in the coming months in a race expected to draw significant national attention.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, reported Tuesday having nearly $8.3 million cash on hand headed into 2022, while his leading Republican challenger reported more than $2.6 million cash on hand. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, reported $4.8 million raised in total.

In Maine, national groups could help boost candidates’ fundraising efforts but will likely surpass candidate spending with independent expenditures, particularly if both parties perceive the race to be close, said Jeremy Fischer, a former Democratic lawmaker and lawyer who served as treasurer for two-time 2nd Congressional District candidate Emily Cain.

Spending from outside groups totaled more than $10 million in each of the past two gubernatorial elections, but that does not typically begin to flow until May or June.

AdImpact, a company that analyzes data for campaigns, predicted last summer that more than a dozen gubernatorial races would outpace Maine in terms of ad spending in 2022, led by Georgia, where the analysis predicted $235 million ad money in the governor’s race, which includes both a competitive primary and general election.

In Maine, AdImpact estimated $39 million in ad spending through Election Day. That sum would still break records here for a gubernatorial race but still account for only around a quarter of the ad spending during Maine’s record-smashing 2020 U.S. Senate race.

Many candidates scaled back their on-the-ground operations due to the pandemic that year, leaving few options other than massive advertising campaigns, Fischer noted. He expects Mills, LePage and their allies will have more ways to spend their money, so ads may be less dominant. Persuading voters might also be a harder task for two well-known hopefuls.

“If you had somebody with lower name ID, there’d be a greater opportunity for them to define themselves and for opponents to try to define them, and to persuade people whether they should or shouldn’t like that new candidate,” Fischer said. “These are two candidates who most people in the state already know and have formed opinions about.”