BANGOR, Maine — Republican Paul LePage won a decisive victory in the party’s gubernatorial primary Tuesday, putting to rest questions about the potency of his grass-roots support.
LePage, who beat his closest challenger by a more than 2-to-1 ratio, pulled ahead after the first town in Maine reported its results, and he never relinquished his considerable lead.
At 1:25 a.m. Wednesday, in unofficial results tallied by the Bangor Daily News from 472 of 596 voting precincts, LePage had garnered 38 percent of the statewide vote. Les Otten and Steve Abbott rounded out the top three with 17 percent and 13 percent of the vote, respectively.
Senate President Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The party nominees will face three independents — Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth, Kevin Scott of Andover and Shawn Moody of Gorham — in the general election in November.
The LePage campaign issued a press release at 11:42 p.m. claiming victory in the primary.
“Tonight was not a win for any particular group,” LePage said in the press release. “Tonight was a win for the state of Maine and our future.”
LePage said his journey from being homeless at age 11 after an abusive childhood to being the Republican nominee for governor “is the story of the American Dream.”
With that, LePage returned to the tough talk he has become known for on the campaign trail, saying the state faces dire circumstances unless it makes major changes and attracts jobs.
“Now we must redouble our efforts,” LePage said in the statement. “So together, as one party, united in our common purpose, let’s go forth. Let’s go forth and create a new day for Maine.”
In his concession speech, Otten thanked his supporters and urged all Republicans to rally behind LePage.
State Sen. Peter Mills attributed LePage’s victory to several factors: either Republicans who hadn’t voted in previous primaries turned out to vote, independents moved over to the party, or the large bloc of undecided voters went overwhelmingly for LePage.
The wide field of seven candidates began forming more than two years ago with many of them throwing their names into the race in 2009. With politicians, businessmen and administrators among the candidates, Republicans had a range of talents, personalities and resumes to choose from.
LePage, mayor of Waterville and general manager of the Maine-based Marden’s chain of stores, touted fiscal conservatism and became the candidate of choice for some of the Republican Party’s furthest-right voters, including many members of the Tea Party movement.
Touting a life story of building his own success, LePage promised to revamp government spending by seeking and enacting efficiencies in the same manner he used in Waterville.
Abbott, a former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has been seen as the candidate most favored by the Republican establishment in Maine, as was evidenced by his numerous public endorsements from legislators and others. He envisioned his governorship as being a teamwork relationship with the Legislature, pulling in lawmakers on ideas early and making it clear from the outset which proposals he would support and which he wouldn’t.
Bill Beardsley, former president of Husson University dating back more than 20 years, tried to establish himself as one of the most conservative candidates on both social and fiscal issues. Beardsley espoused bold ideas in everything from energy policy to economic development, promising to bring radical change to state government.
Matt Jacobson, a military veteran and president and CEO of Maine & Co., a firm dedicated to job creation, put jobs at the forefront of his campaign, as did some of the other candidates. On the campaign trail he earned a reputation as having a quick wit in front of crowds and for frequently challenging the assumptions behind whatever question he was asked.
Mills, a longtime state legislator and attorney, touted his experience as a lawmaker who has led his party as the ranking member of six different legislative committees. In an election year with a heavy anti-incumbent tinge, Mills repeatedly insisted that his experience in state government would be vital in the effort to solve the daunting problems facing state government.
Otten, a former ski company executive who has founded or been involved in several Maine businesses, touted his experience working within Maine’s tax and regulatory environment as an entrepreneur as a valuable asset for the state’s chief executive. Otten ran a very aggressive campaign, blanketing the state with advertisements and branding his campaign as being focused on creating jobs.
Bruce Poliquin, a former executive in an investment firm, also touted his business experience, often stating that he has managed investment pools significantly larger than the state’s annual budget.
He ran his campaign largely on his own terms, often skipping forums and debates attended by all the other candidates in favor of conducting dozens of town hall-style events all over Maine.
Despite numerous polls that put one candidate or another in the lead and widespread speculation by political observers and academics, many people saw the seven-member race as being wide open with any of several candidates capable of garnering enough votes to win.
In Pittsfield on Tuesday, voter Scott Nevells said he was looking for a vast departure from state government’s current course, so he voted for Otten.
“I hope he’ll bring us out of this hole,” said Nevells. “He’s probably a little better than we’ve got right now.”
Mark Carney of Newport declined to identify which candidate he supported but said he was looking for staunch conservatism in state government. “I think government has got to start acting like people sitting at their kitchen tables,” he said after voting. “You don’t spend money you don’t have.”
Peter Friend of Newport favored Beardsley. “He sure brought Husson University up,” said Friend. “There may be plenty of room for him to do some of that in Augusta.”
Some voters, despite the seven candidates, still didn’t find a Republican they liked. A woman in Newport who wouldn’t identify herself said she has been a lifelong Republican but went to the polls intent on voting for a Democrat. She didn’t realize until after she had received her ballot that she had to be registered Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary.
“I left it blank,” she said of her GOP ballot. “I’ve never done that before. There’s no one on the Republican list that I want in there.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.