Maine Democratic Party Chair Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, shortly after the swearing-in of the new Maine Legislature on Dec. 7. Gattine will not run for another term as chair of the party so that he can focus on his work in the Legislature, December 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The chair of the Maine Democratic Party will not run for another term after he oversaw big wins for his party in the 2022 election.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, took the reins of the party after he was termed out of his Maine House seat following eight years in office. Now that he’s been elected to the House again, he is forgoing a bid for a new term as party chair to focus on his legislative duties.

“It’s been a great couple of years,” Gattine said. “I’m ready to turn it over to somebody else. At this point, I’m really focusing on my next few years in the House.”

Party leadership elections take place on Jan. 22. Applications to chair the party will be accepted starting Monday, party spokesperson Jacob Stern said, with any registered Democrat in Maine eligible to run for that office along with other party roles.

Gattine guided the Maine Democrats through a 2022 election in which the party was expected to lose ground, with one analysis predicting that the state could see some of the tightest legislative elections in the nation. That trajectory changed after the Supreme Court in June overturned a nearly five-decade-old precedent providing a constitutional right to abortion.

Gattine credited strong candidates up and down the ticket for helping the party. Democratic nominees like Gov. Janet Mills and a host of Legislature candidates were able to run on years of Democratic accomplishments, he said.

But Maine Democrats also succeeded at the ballot box because they made abortion rights an integral part of their campaign, with candidates — including Mills, who spoke frequently from her experience of living in Maine before Roe v. Wade — going on the attack and pushing GOP candidates into uncomfortable positions.

Gattine said he first realized reproductive rights would be a defining issue of the election while canvassing a couple of weeks after Politico published a draft copy of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision in early May.

“It’s all that anybody wanted to talk about,” said Gattine. “People were incredibly both upset and energized.”

That reaction helped propel Democrats to big wins, including larger-than-expected victories for Democrats Mills and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden. The party ultimately retained control of the governor’s office, both of the state’s U.S. House seats, and both chambers of the Maine Legislature.

Though there were a few bright spots for the Maine GOP, the election was widely seen as a failure for the party. Weeks after, the Maine GOP said losses in high-profile races were out of its control.

Maine GOP Chair Demi Kouzounas said Monday she would run for a fourth and final term as GOP chair, noting support she has among state committee members and a strong fundraising record.

“While some candidates are successful and some are not, we must continue the work to build the best machine possible to support their campaigns, not fall backward into the mindset and tactics of the past,” Kouzounas said in a statement.

Whoever takes control of both parties will oversee campaign efforts during Maine’s 2024 election, when one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats, both its U.S. House seats and every state legislative seat will be on the ballot during a presidential election year.

One thing Gattine said he would like to see his successor work on is growing Democratic support in rural Maine, where the party has lost ground, reflecting a national trend. The new Legislature will have a historically low number of Democrats from rural counties.

“The numbers don’t lie. I do think we need to do a better job in all respects, especially when it comes to the more rural parts of the state,” Gattine said, “making sure people understand that what Democrats stand for is going to be helpful to them, help them lead better lives.”

While in the Maine House, Gattine served as chair of the powerful Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. He also clashed with former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who famously said he would like to challenge Gattine to a duel.

Now that he’s back in the House, he said he wants to prioritize housing, health care and helping older Mainers as well as those with disabilities.