Member of the House of Representatives look up as a vote is tallied during the final session, Wednesday, June 30, 2021, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

A new poll paid for by a national Republican group found a tight race for control of the Maine Legislature this fall, with cost of living the most important issue for voters, followed by abortion rights.

The survey, paid for by the Republican State Leadership Committee, which provided detailed information on the poll to the Bangor Daily News, is the first released publicly this year to provide insight on how Maine voters are thinking about Maine House and Senate races.

It highlights the role that inflation and high costs of living could play in November’s election. But nearly 1 in 5 voters also picked abortion rights as their top issue, suggesting a possible motivating issue for Democrats in a year expected to be good for Republicans.

The poll surveyed 600 likely Maine voters from June 28 through 30. The margin of error was 4 percent.

When Mainers were asked whether they were more likely to vote for Republicans or Democrats in state legislative races this fall, the poll found a virtual tie, with 48 percent of voters saying they would definitely or probably vote for the Democratic candidate compared with 47 percent definitely or probably voting for the Republican and 5 percent unsure.

Among independent voters, 49 percent favored the Republican candidate compared with 44 percent saying they would vote for a Democrat. But the Democratic party registration edge in the state put the party now in control of Augusta slightly ahead.

Control of both legislative chambers is up for grabs this year, with Maine expected to have among the most competitive legislative elections in the U.S. The governor’s race is also expected to be a tight battle, with early polls showing Gov. Janet Mills only slightly ahead of former Gov. Paul LePage.

The new poll found Maine Democrats still running ahead of an unpopular President Joe Biden. Fifty-two percent of voters held an unfavorable view of the Democratic president, while only 45 percent viewed him favorably.

A plurality of voters — 31 percent — cited cost of living as the most important issue for the state government to address. Protecting abortion right was the second most commonly cited issue, with 18 percent of voters saying it should be the top priority.

The polling was conducted just a few days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, leaving the decision about whether to keep abortion legal up to lawmakers. Maine has strong legal protections for abortion that Mills and legislative Democrats have promised to keep. Republicans have largely shied from the issue in recent weeks, saying voters care more about the economy.

The poll also provided some insight into the sort of messaging Republicans could try to latch on this fall. Nearly 7 out of 10 voters surveyed said they would be less likely to support a candidate who backed legislation to raise the gas tax.

Ahead of a special Maine Senate election in June, Republicans looked to highlight a carbon tax bill introduced in 2019 by a group of Democratic lawmakers, including now-Sen. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, in the context of high gas prices now, though lawmakers quickly killed the measure after opposition from Mills.

Grohoski still won that election handily over former Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth. The district is among those both parties will target again in the fall with the same two candidates on the ballot for a full two-year term.