If former Gov. Paul LePage ever had a way to a third term, it was by walking a narrow path through the Portland suburbs. He didn’t come close.
LePage floundered across the growing region that has shifted toward Democrats since his last election in 2014. He lost badly in Tuesday’s election in places where he once won and let Gov. Janet Mills drive up the margin in others to the point where victory was impossible.
His 2022 performance was worse than his showing in 2014 in all 70 communities in the Portland metro area. Mills defeated him in places he won eight years ago, like Windham, Gorham, Sanford, Wells and Gray, where he lost by lopsided margins that made winning impossible.
The results were not from lack of effort: One day, LePage trekked from a Gray gun shop to a Falmouth farmer’s market in a quest for votes. He held his last rally on the Monday before Election Day not in the storied swing city of Lewiston, where he was born, but in Scarborough.
Mills won two-thirds of votes there, while LePage got only a third. He won Scarborough by 6 percentage points in 2014, although independent candidate Eliot Cutler was a factor. This year’s independent also-ran, Sam Hunkler, gained little support.
As Maine Republicans make sense of LePage’s campaign, one thing was clear: He had flaws that seemed to resonate among suburban voters. Interviews at the polls showed that many Mainers resented his perceived rudeness and the chaos that surrounded his tenure. Even if they didn’t like everything about Mills, their vote for her was often in a quest for civility.
“I think he’s rash; I think he’s angry,” said Olivia, a 26-year-old teacher from Windham who declined to give her last name for professional reasons. “He left a bad taste in a lot of Mainers’ mouths.”
Also helpful was some national momentum favoring Democrats, especially after the Supreme Court ended federal abortion rights in June. LePage said he would veto restrictions, but his past history of being against abortion rights won out for many voters.
“I would like to have abortion rights in this state,” said Hope Higgins, an 18-year-old student from Buxton who voted for Mills. “I feel that Paul LePage would look to banish those rights.”
He underperformed his 2014 race as well as Republican nominee Shawn Moody’s performance in 2018. But nowhere did that seem as accentuated as the Portland suburbs, a growing, populous region that any statewide candidate needs to take seriously.
Many of those suburbs have grown more Democratic-leaning in recent years, making it harder than ever for a statewide Republican candidate to win in them. But it is not impossible for the GOP, since U.S. Sen. Susan Collins won many of them in 2020. In the ones she lost, she avoided the lopsided defeats that LePage had.
Nobody ever thought LePage would win Portland. But his low performance in Maine’s largest city helped put him underwater. LePage got just 11 percent of the vote there. Even former President Donald Trump did better in 2020.
Dan Horton, a 29-year-old mechanic in Portland, described his vote for Mills unenthusiastically as “mostly the lesser of two evils,” but he called her an incumbent he could get behind.
In numerous other Portland suburbs, LePage lagged Moody by double digits. LePage had been far more optimistic in an August interview on the trail in Cumberland.
He would be able to win over former Mills voters in the suburbs, he said, especially those in the small business community and parents concerned with education.
“We’ve spoken to hundreds and hundreds of parents,” LePage said. “I’m telling you: they’re coming out.”
BDN writer Callie Ferguson contributed to this report.