Janet Mills celebrates with supporters Tuesday night after the race was called for her.
Gov. Janet Mills laughs while taking a congratulatory phone call from U.S. Sen. Angus King on stage as she declared victory on Tuesday night in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Gov. Janet Mills routed former Gov. Paul LePage to win a second Blaine House term in a Tuesday election that was the most expensive of its kind in Maine history.

The Democratic governor bested her predecessor in their political rivalry stretching back into LePage’s eight-year tenure as governor. Mills served as attorney general for six of them and won the 2018 election to succeed the Republican by running to overturn much of his legacy.

Her refrain this year was that Maine “won’t go back” to LePage after his divisive tenure. He hammered Mills on the crippling costs and inflation dominating national and global politics, but her approval ratings remained strong over a campaign that LePage teased since before he turned the office over to Mills four years ago.

Mills had 53.6 percent of votes to LePage’s 44.3 percent when the Bangor Daily News and Decision Desk HQ called the race at 11:47 p.m. Tuesday. Independent Sam Hunkler was a nonfactor in the race, pulling 2.1 percent of votes after a low-key run.

“Tonight the people of Maine sent a pretty clear message, a message that we will continue to move forward, not go back,” she told supporters at the music venue Aura in Portland. “We will continue to fight problems, not one another.”

It was the first time LePage has ever lost an election going back to his days on the Waterville City Council. He issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying he accepted the results. At his election night party in Lewiston around 10:50 p.m., he said “the election doesn’t look very well” and then gave a defiant speech hammering Mills.

He addressed her by saying he hoped her second term was better than her first and called her “an elitist” and said “America needs better than people who are not caring for the people they govern.”

“We missed the message,” LePage lamented. “It’s about abortion, not about heating oil.”

Paul LePage talks with supporters late Tuesday night as he acknowledged his bid to unseat Janet Mills wasn't looking good.
Former Gov. Paul LePage greets supports in Lewiston late Tuesday night. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

As LePage left the room, it devolved into chaos, especially from supporters who had drank at the bar. Supporters began shouting expletives to disrupt recordings by TV reporters. One woman who loudly wept as LePage spoke began hurling explicit insults at a reporter who had interviewed her. Some attendees raised baseless accusations of voter fraud. LePage did not.

Mills has had four years of united Democratic control of Augusta, and she will get at least two more with her party claiming at least 82 seats in the Maine House of Representatives. They also kept at least 22 seats in the Senate with the possibility of adding another.

After a first term roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic and shaped by the billions in federal aid that followed and bailed out Maine and other states, her first priority may be to deliver more relief to Mainers facing another spike in heating and electricity costs. As of last week, heating oil was nearing $6 per gallon in parts of Maine, which is the state most dependent on it.

Election 2022 Results

Nearly $28.2 million was spent between the candidates and outside groups in the race, with Democrats spending $16.5 million of that. The Mills and LePage campaigns themselves accounted for most of that gap, with the governor outraising her rival by $3.1 million. 

That frustrated some Republicans who thought a former governor could do better. It left him reliant on the Republican Governors Association and the Maine Republican Party to run ads for him in the early part of the campaign. As momentum shifted toward his party nationally, Democrats rushed ad money in on Mills’ behalf in early October to stifle any uprising.

Costs and inflation were dominating races across the country in the spring, but Democrats got momentum back after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion rights in June. Mills and her allies hit the anti-abortion LePage hard on the issue. He responded by downplaying his interest in changing abortion laws, even saying he opposed a 15-week ban.

Gov. Janet Mills declares victory on Tuesday night in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

At the end of the campaign, costs came back into focus. LePage seemed to have some success by harnessing anger from lobstermen over the governor’s support for offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine. Republican ads also stretched to tie Mills to rising consumer costs, including by repeating a false claim that she supported a gas tax increase.

She parried attacks on the subject by returning over and over again in debates and stump speeches to the $850 relief checks for taxpayers that both parties in the Legislature negotiated earlier this year, after stemming from a Republican idea opposed by LePage.

In the end, LePage had a hard road to a third term as governor, which would have been unprecedented in the modern era. The Portland suburbs he was able to win or keep close in his 2010 and 2014 elections have grown and shifted left in the last few years. While he tried to campaign as a toned-down “LePage 2.0,” there were signs of his old bombast, including when he threatened to “deck” a Democratic tracker and revived unsubstantiated voting claims.

In Brewer, a 80-year-old Vivian Ross, a retired newspaper proofreader, said she voted for Mills, who brings class to the office.

“She was faced with horrendous things during the pandemic and she conducted herself very professionally,” Ross said. “She’s a caring person and I feel she genuinely cares.” 

BDN writers David Marino Jr. and Callie Ferguson contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...