Former Gov. Paul LePage (left) and Gov. Janet Mills. Credit: Composite photo

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills had only a narrow lead over former Gov. Paul LePage entering this spring in an initial public poll of their 2022 campaign that showed a difficult but not insurmountable electoral environment for top Democrats in Maine.

The survey of roughly 600 registered Maine voters, which was conducted between March 14 and April 7 and released by Portland-based Digital Research Inc. on Monday, mirrors Democrats’ problems nationwide under President Joe Biden, showing a Maine electorate nearly as worried about the state of the economy as it was at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Biden’s approval rating has dipped into the low 40s nationally and the Maine pollster marked it even lower here at 34 percent. At those levels, he could be a drag on Democrats here whose popularity has remained more durable approaching what should be a good midterm election for Republicans across the country.

Mills, a Democrat, won 42 percent of support in the poll to 39 percent for LePage, the former two-term Republican governor. A significant 13 percent of voters were undecided with 6 percent saying they would back an independent candidate.

The gap between Mills and LePage, which was within the 4-percentage-point margin of error, was marked by deep polarization between Maine’s two congressional districts. The governor won 52 percent of votes in the more liberal 1st District, while her predecessor garnered nearly half of votes in the more conservative 2nd District.

That is the most Republican-leaning district held by a Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden, a vulnerable two-term congressman who has maintained an approval rating in the low 40s during his tenure. He was marked at 41 percent this spring, with only 26 percent disapproving. That virtually mirrored the approval figures for Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District.

Golden’s coalition was broader, however. Just over half of Democrats approved of him alongside roughly one-third of Republicans. Only 5 percent of Republicans in Pingree’s district said they approved of her. Former Rep. Bruce Poliquin faces off with longshot Caratunk Selectman Liz Caruso in a June primary for the Republican nomination in the 2nd District.

Pocketbook issues dominated Mainers’ concerns in the survey, with 54 percent of those surveyed predicting the economy to get worse over the next year. Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to feel optimistic about the economic future. Among the top economic concerns were the price of oil and utilities, cost of living and inflation.

Less than 3 in 10 voters think the state is on the right track with 4 in 10 saying it is on the wrong one, in nearly a complete reversal from Digital Research Inc.’s spring 2021 poll. Mainers had a far dimmer view of the national picture, with 57 percent saying the U.S. is on the wrong track. That was the highest figure measure in the polling since fall 2014.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong figure for registered voters sampled in the poll.

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...