George Soros-backed Jackie Sartoris unseated Cumberland County's district attorney.
Cumberland County District Attorney candidate Jackie Sartoris talks with voters outside the Grace Baptist Church on Summit Street in Portland on Tuesday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Kennebec County prosecutor Jackie Sartoris defeated incumbent Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck in a Democratic primary on Tuesday that ensures she will assume the seat in the November election.

Sartoris had 63.9 percent of votes, compared with 36.1 percent for Sahrbeck, who conceded the race through a spokesperson at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday. No Republican or independent candidate ran in the race, ensuring Sartoris will be uncontested in the November election.

“If the voters elect me in November, I am prepared for the hard work ahead, and look forward to securing the common sense and pragmatic policies that reflect the values of our [county] and deliver the criminal justice reforms we promised in this campaign,” she said in a statement.

Sartoris benefited from a wave of spending from Democratic megadonor George Soros, who has been running a national campaign to elect progressive prosecutors across the country. A group started by Soros’ network spent $440,000 in a bid to oust Sahrbeck, more than all the money spent in every Maine district attorney race from 2012 through 2020.

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The candidates’ biggest differences were in how they approached the role. Sahrbeck said the top prosecutors should engage with the community directly about issues that can land people in jail, while Sartoris said the role should be focused on policy and how to prosecute people. Both said the state should close its only youth prison at a Maine Youth Justice forum in June.

Much of the race came down to party loyalty. Sartoris styled herself as a “lifelong Democrat,” an implicit reference to Sahrbeck’s time as a registered Republican and his work under former Republican District Attorney Stephanie Anderson. He won his first term by default in 2018 as an independent after a Republican and Democrat dropped out. He later enrolled with the Democrats, saying he generally aligns with them.

That was fodder for the Soros-backed group, which also hit Sahrbeck for his 2018 prosecution of a sex trafficking victim. That case was resolved without the person having a criminal record and Sahrbeck noted that it was not clear the woman was a trafficking victim early in the case.

The incumbent hit the attacks on him as a “dark money” bid to oust him, although Soros’ direct involvement was noted in ads and mailers. Sartoris decried the negative campaigning but said it was a positive sign that national groups were paying attention to the race.

“As she officially moves in to the role, I will assist Jackie in the transition to ensure the best possible outcome for the people of Cumberland County,” Sahrbeck said in a statement.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.