Nicole Grohoski won the special election for Senate District 7 in a moral boost for Democrats going into November.
Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, holds the door for voters at Ellsworth City Hall on Tuesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Democrats kept control of a swing legislative district on Tuesday when Rep. Nicole Grohoski defeated former Sen. Brian Langley in a special Maine Senate election in Hancock County.

Republicans conceded the race at 9:48 p.m. Tuesday, while Democrats declared victory. With 18 percent of the estimated vote reported to the Bangor Daily News and its election partner Decision Desk HQ, Grohoski led with 59 percent, compared with just over 40 percent for Langley and less than 1 percent for Green candidate Benjamin Meikeljohn.

Grohoski won municipalities including Ellsworth, which is both her and Langley’s hometown, as well as the usually Republican-leaning town of Hancock.

Her victory will have little effect in Augusta as the Legislature has no plans to return for a session this fall. But it is a moral victory for Maine Democrats to hold onto the district with Republicans preparing for a 2022 wave year under an unpopular President Joe Biden, a Democrat. Republicans’ pathway to flipping the Maine Senate narrows significantly if Langley does not win back the Hancock County seat in November.

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The special election was called to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, who resigned in January to take a job with the Small Business Administration. Luchini was first elected to the open seat in 2018, when Langley was term limited, and then defeated the former Republican senator in 2020.

The district, which includes many tourism-reliant areas around Acadia National Park and the state’s largest lobster port in Stonington, favors Democrats at the national level. Biden won 57 percent of the vote there in 2020.

Langley and Grohoski will face off again in the November election, as they each also won their respective primaries on Tuesday. The boundaries of the district are shifting slightly for the November election due to redistricting, swapping nearly a dozen towns in eastern Hancock County for several on the Blue Hill Peninsula.

Democrats held a strong advantage going into Election Day due to higher absentee voting. As of Monday, more than 1,500 registered Democrats had returned absentee ballots compared to 329 Republicans, according to the Maine secretary of state’s office.

That helped buoy Grohoski, a two-term state representative from Ellsworth known as a strong critic of Central Maine Power Co. and a proponent of plans for the state to instead adopt a consumer-owned utility. Richard Holk, 78, of Sedgwick cast his ballot for Grohoski on Tuesday.

“She’s got experience and integrity,” he said.

Langley, a restaurant owner, previously served in the Maine Senate from 2010 through 2018, focused his campaign primarily on the need to improve access to technical education to ensure Maine’s future workforce.

BDN writer Ethan Genter contributed to this report.