The tradition of concession calls has been waning due to growing partisanship and distrust in vote tallying, particularly among Republicans.
Republican Paul LePage, joined by his wife, Ann, left, speaks to supporters on Nov. 8, 2022, in Lewiston. Credit: Joel Page / AP

When Democrat Mark Lawrence lost his race to U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe in 2000, he didn’t find it difficult to call his Republican rival on election night to concede. He congratulated Snowe, wished her luck and noted that Mainers had a high opinion of her.

He knew he was going to lose — Snowe got nearly 70 percent of the vote — and the call was also expected in Maine politics. The campaigns already had exchanged numbers in preparation for such a call.

“It was pretty traditional in politics since I’ve been involved in the early ‘80s,” said Lawrence, now a state senator representing southern York County. “It seems nowadays that isn’t the deal.”

This year, none of the losing Republican candidates in Maine’s top three races this year have called their winning opponents to personally concede.

Paul LePage publicly acknowledged his loss to Gov. Janet Mills, but hasn’t called her, according to a Mills spokesperson. Neither has Bruce Poliquin, who challenged U.S. Rep. Jared Golden to represent Maine’s 2nd District in the U.S. House, nor Ed Thelander, who challenged U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree to represent the 1st District.

The tradition has been waning nationwide in recent years due to hardened partisanship as well as growing distrust, particularly among Republicans, in vote tallying and media organizations that call races on election night.

Former Republican President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede or even acknowledge President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 until after the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, defying more than a century of precedent, didn’t help the matter.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, a Democrat who represented Maine’s 1st District until 2009, said he was surprised none of the major-party losing candidates this year had made calls, but said Trump had done a lot to “coarsen” political dialogue across the U.S. and in Maine.

“He’s done some great damage to basic civility,” Allen said.

Allen called U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on election night in 2008 after he failed to win the Senate seat she still holds. Concession speeches are important, he said, but he also sees the call as significant.

“If you can’t handle the discomfort of a concession, you probably shouldn’t be running,” Allen said.

It is perhaps unsurprising that LePage didn’t call Mills. He called the Democratic governor a dishonest elitist who did not care about Maine people during his election night speech in Lewiston. He conceded publicly the next day and said he accepted the result but did not congratulate Mills.

Even when he would have been on the other end of a concession call, LePage didn’t even answer Democrat Mike Michaud’s concession call in 2014 after the Republican had just won a second term as governor.

That was the only race Michaud ever lost in a legislative and congressional career spanning decades, but he remembered getting concession calls from previous opponents. He sees the call as a way to ease hard feelings from a hard-fought campaign for an office meant to serve the public.

Michaud was not surprised LePage had not called Mills given his comments on election night, which he called “unprofessional.”

“It’s important,” Michaud said. “It takes someone who lost the race courage to call and wish you the very best.”

Poliquin’s defeat was practically certain on election night but wasn’t certified until this past Wednesday after a ranked-choice runoff. Poliquin conceded in a statement Thursday, wishing Golden and his family well while saying he and other Democrats should “reverse course” on heating oil policies while they still control the House.

Golden’s campaign confirmed that Poliquin had not called the congressman.

Thelander conceded publicly on election night but didn’t call his opponent to concede, according to Pingree’s office. His message to Pingree was to put more thought into her renewable energy policies, he told the BDN on election night.

Pingree, meanwhile, made a concession call to Collins when she ran against the senator and lost in 2002, but a spokesperson did not provide details. Democrat Sara Gideon also called Collins to concede after her failure to unseat the senator two years ago, a Collins spokesperson said.

The Republicans’ refusal to call stands in contrast to Republican gubernatorial nominee Shawn Moody’s approach four years ago, in 2018, when he lost to Mills.

While he believes he conceded to Mills’ campaign manager over the phone rather than Mills herself, he said his concession speech broadcast his message about the race and to Mills.

“It’s a difficult emotional moment,” Moody said. “That’s a sobering reality when the results are coming in — it’s not going your way.”

Still, concessions provide closure for the losing candidate, Moody said.

Moody conceded after midnight on election night after results came in showing strong support for Mills in the populous Portland suburbs, something that also made it difficult for LePage to win earlier this month.

He used his concession speech to speak directly to Mills, congratulating her on her campaign and urging unity.

“We want to make sure that we move forward together,” he said.

As for LePage’s remarks on election night, Moody said it seemed to him the former governor didn’t foresee losing the race by such a large margin.

“He was obviously upset about it,” Moody said. “It’s like anything. When emotions run high, everyone reacts differently.”

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