A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
We have not seen an election year quite like 2022.
Coming off one term of a deeply unpopular President Donald Trump, we now have an unpopular President Joe Biden. In a strange pandemic hangover, inflation and costs are sky-high and the economy contracted this year, yet spending has been strong.
The conventional wisdom is that Republicans will have a strong 2022 in a midterm election for the Democratic president. It is still a major possibility, with FiveThirtyEight giving Republicans about a 50 percent chance of taking both chambers of Congress from Democrats now only in control of Washington by slight margins.
Yet we are seeing a national trend of Democratic governors resisting a drag from the president.
Polling released by Morning Consult last week found Biden’s approval underwater by 10 percentage points in Maine, yet Gov. Janet Mills is at a remarkably consistent 53 percent mark observed in the firm’s last three rounds of quarterly polling. That was 10 points higher than one registered in the previous quarter by Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who nonetheless won in convincing fashion in 2020, showing approval is not everything.
Mills’ opponent, former Gov. Paul LePage, has a loyal base of supporters but relatively narrow popularity outside of them, topping out at 47 percent approval in his tenure during a 2011 honeymoon period with united Republican control of Augusta. Party registration in Maine has tilted more toward Democrats since he left office.
Despite this, the Mills-LePage showdown is looking like a hotly contested race, with the former governor within a few points of the incumbent in polls conducted this spring. Sources in both parties say more recent private polls back up those figures. LePage is probably still an underdog (FiveThirtyEight gives him a 22 percent shot), but he is one with a chance.
Popularity and environment are crashing together in another big race. If environment was the only thing that mattered, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District would be on his way out with Republicans on track to take the House back. But in the spring, he was leading former Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the conservative-leaning district by a healthier margin than Mills.
It is Golden’s unique attributes, highlighted by a police group’s recent support, that could win the day. Forecasters are deeply split on this race, with FiveThirtyEight calling it a toss-up but our national election results partners at Decision Desk HQ saying Poliquin has a 4 in 5 chance of winning a race that also will have independent Tiffany Bond on a ranked-choice ballot.
For now, Republicans are building their campaign around national factors. A messaging push on Monday pitted Maine’s slight economic contraction earlier this year against mirroring growth in Republican-led New Hampshire, though a wider look at the map showed contraction in 46 of the 50 states.
They still have a good chance to make waves in this election, but the urgency is heightening for them to whip up enthusiasm enough to beat a durable crop of Democrats.