Voters wait in line to cast their midterm election ballots at the Waterville Junior High School, in Waterville, Nov. 8, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Maine Democrats bucked a historic trend of bad midterm elections for the party in power, neutralizing Republican arguments about rising costs and inflation.

Throughout Tuesday’s election, Bangor Daily News reporters visited polling places from Buxton to Caribou. Here are the trends we gleaned that made the results possible.

ELECTION RESULTS

Dislike of Paul LePage 

Former Gov. Paul LePage poses for a photo with supporters late Tuesday night, Nov. 8, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

There is no way that Gov. Janet Mills could have won a solid majority of Maine voters without strong support, but many voters noted their distaste for her opponent, former Gov. Paul LePage, when outlining why they supported her.

LePage was a two-term governor and received 48 percent of the vote in 2014. But that was before a rough second term in which he gained headlines for racist and offensive remarks. He tried to pitch himself as a toned-down “LePage 2.0” but did not shake his old reputation.

Voters leveled harsh words at the former governor: Sarah Lozanova, a writer from Belfast, called him “appalling.” Megan Hughes of Bangor said the state needed “less drama and better character.” Jeremy Meadows of Lisbon Falls called him “callous, rude and vindictive.”

“I don’t want him anywhere near the governorship,” Meadows said.

Eric Bilodeau, 44, of Fairfield is self-employed, cared most about the economy and lives in a Republican community. He’s the kind of voter LePage couldn’t afford to lose. But he voted for Mills, saying LePage had been too hostile as governor and in debates this year.

“He was more focused on trying to bash Mills than actually focusing on the topics,” Bilodeau said.

Abortion rights

Gov. Janet Mills speaks to a crowd at an abortion-rights rally in Portland’s Monument Square on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision overturning federal abortion rights, Democrats dug in on defending them in the states. A momentum shift toward the party at that time seemed to fade away as costs and inflation took hold toward the end of the election cycle.

That could have been something of a mirage. While nearly a third of voters in a national CNN exit poll cited the economy as their biggest issue and 7 in 10 of them went for Republicans in congressional races, around a quarter cited abortion and 7 in 10 backed Democrats.

It was easy to find abortion-rights voters in Maine on Tuesday, with Rebecca Pelletier, 29, of Ellsworth, voting for Rep. Jared Golden of the 2nd District over former Rep. Bruce Poliquin because of the incumbent’s strong record on her side of the issue. Poliquin was staunchly anti-abortion in office, once voting for a federal ban on most abortions after 20 weeks.

Some underscored the complexity of the issue. Barbara Turner, 70, of Orono doesn’t agree with abortion, but she said she “disagrees even more” with telling people what they can do with their bodies. She voted for Mills.

One of the most memorable moments of the race came when LePage pledged in his first debate with Mills to veto a 15-week ban on abortion. He also said he did not oppose Medicaid funding for abortion, but Democrats leaned on his history of anti-abortion statements.

“This election could impact women’s rights, and LePage is a threat to that,” said Shea Hendricks, a 22-year-old student in Old Town who voted for Mills and Golden.

Some men noted how the issue affected them. But Evan Lunetta, a 30-year-old arborist from Windham, said his support for abortion rights stemmed from a belief in bodily autonomy.

“I’m not even dating,” he said. “That’s not even something I would need. But I want somebody else who does need it to be able to have it.”

Support for Mills’ pandemic response

Gov. Janet Mills presents Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah with a 12-pack of Diet Coke at a press conference in the State House on Wednesday June 30, 2021. Shah’s love for the soft drink was well-documented during numerous press briefings during the pandemic. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

COVID-19 cases remain low in Maine, but that hasn’t kept it off the mind of several voters, who heaped praise on the Mills-led response to the pandemic. She touted the state’s relatively low death rate and a study from conservative economists praising reopening policies here. But LePage and Republicans seized on her 2021 vaccine mandate for health care workers.

Voters seemed to generally give Mills the benefit of the doubt. Matt Florey, a 49-year-old hotel clerk from Old Town who voted for her, said Mills was harassed for “what she had to do.”

“She did a good job during a tough time,” said Kurt Eyerer, 30, of Lisbon.

BDN writers Bill Trotter, Lori Valigra, Kay Neufeld and Lia Russell contributed to this report.