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.
The person playing for the most at Fenway Park on Saturday was not on the fading Boston Red Sox or the rebuilding Texas Rangers.
It was Gov. Janet Mills, who was on the field for the Maine Day first-pitch ceremony before shooting back north to introduce the Ghost of Paul Revere for the band’s last-ever show at Thompson’s Point in Portland.
The weekend showed the Democrat embracing her role as a Maine ambassador. But it is probably one of the last of its kind for Mills this year as she enters the homestretch of a tough campaign with former Gov. Paul LePage in a race also featuring independent Sam Hunkler.
Here’s where the race stands after Labor Day, the traditional marker of peak campaign season.
A big-name surrogate comes to Maine for LePage while facing backlash. LePage is starting things with a Lewiston fundraiser on Wednesday starring Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. He is mounting an effort to get fellow Republican governors elected a year after his victory, in which he harnessed backlash to pandemic education policies. He signed early orders banning critical race theory and mask mandates in schools.
None of that has been as big of an issue in Maine, in part due to a legacy of local control. LePage is teasing a “Parents Bill of Rights” that he has not yet outlined but appears to amount to a large voucher program for parents to use shares of public education money for other schooling as they see fit.
His campaign touted Youngkin’s education reforms in the event invitation. It is drawing backlash from the Virginia Democratic Party after media there dug up LePage’s 2016 comments in which he said out-of-state drug dealers were coming to Maine and impregnating “young, white” women. The Virginia governor told The Washington Post that he was not aware of those remarks.
LePage and Mills have mostly been doing low-key campaigning so far. The former governor trekked through the Portland suburbs on a colorful “listening tour” day witnessed by the BDN’s David Marino Jr. that was marked by introspection from some of the governor’s biggest fans on his chances in the November election. He has continued to put costs forward in his public-facing campaign, although education and voter ID are issues he highlights often.
“I came from the streets. I was a fighter my whole life. I am not an elitist — I don’t want to be,” LePage told a crowd in a stump speech. “I prefer being home at night with my family. But when it’s time to step it up, I step it up.”
The race has polled closely so far, although there have been no public polls in the race since the spring. While FiveThirtyEight gives Mills an 84 percent chance of winning right now, LePage should be seen as formidable, never having lost a race dating back to his time in Waterville politics. The two are likely to begin a busy debate schedule in October, with CBS affiliate WGME and the Bangor Daily News hosting one on Oct. 24.
The counter-programming against LePage starts anew today: The Maine Democratic Party is holding a news conference in Portland on how LePage’s “claims that he has changed don’t hold up.” Mills has focused on her early moves to erode LePage’s legacy, including by expanding Medicaid while pivoting to abortion rights after a Supreme Court decision ending federal protections.
“If he had his way, abortion would be at risk, tens of thousands of people would be without health care, and working across the aisle to get things done would be a thing of the past,” Mills said of LePage in a fundraising email.