AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine voters will head to the polls today to cast ballots in heated races for governor, Congress and the Legislature during an election season in which economic concerns have trumped all other issues.
Polls in most towns are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and state election officials are expecting a healthy voter turnout.
“We are still thinking about 50 to 55 percent for turnout,” said Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. That would put the turnout for the 2010 election roughly on par with other gubernatorial contests but lower than most presidential elections.
While the battle for the Blaine House has dominated the news for months, there is no shortage of tightly contested races on Maine ballots.
Voters statewide will decide once again whether to allow a resort casino to open in Oxford County in western Maine.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is in the midst of a fierce fight with her Republican opponent, Dean Scontras, for the chance to represent the southern third of Maine in Congress. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, is also facing an aggressive challenge from Republican Jason Levesque.
And control of the Legislature could be at stake as the Maine GOP hopes to ride the tide of voter frustration to big victories in House and Senate races.
Maine’s gubernatorial contest guarantees to attract the most attention, however, as five candidates — Republican Paul LePage, Democrat Libby Mitchell and independents Eliot Cutler, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott — vie to succeed Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.
LePage, an executive at Marden’s who is also mayor of Waterville, continues to lead the pack in voter surveys. But Cutler appears to be on the move, with several recent polls suggesting that the Cape Elizabeth lawyer has surpassed Mitchell as LePage’s top rival.
Moody and Scott have trailed well behind the other three. But in a close race, the pair could pick up enough votes to affect who captures the governorship.
On Monday, most of the candidates were in campaign overdrive as they worked to sway undecided voters and urge supporters to show up at the polls on Tuesday.
Mitchell spent most of the day in Portland and southern Maine, appearing on morning talk radio shows and helping with the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote efforts. Likewise, Cutler toured the downtowns of South Berwick, Sanford and Kennebunk before attending rallies in Saco and Portland.
LePage met with get-out-the-vote volunteers in Lewiston Monday afternoon before attending an evening rally in Old Orchard Beach.
For months, national political observers have been suggesting that Republicans are more likely to vote this year than Democrats, likely setting the stage for significant GOP gains in Congress as well as governor and state legislative races.
Back in June, roughly 8,000 more registered Republicans participated in Maine’s gubernatorial primary than did Democrats despite the fact there are tens of thousands more registered Democrats in the state.
While LePage’s consistent lead in the polls suggests his base remains more energized than the Democratic base, it is impossible to tell whether that will translate into large GOP victories at the polls.
Municipal clerks across Maine had received roughly 116,000 absentee ballots from Maine voters as of Monday afternoon out of 137,000 that had been requested, according to figures supplied by the Secretary of State’s office.
Roughly 38 percent of the absentee ballots already turned in were from registered Democrats while 35 percent were from Republicans and 25 percent from independent or unenrolled voters.
“I don’t see any real indications that the numbers are skewing in any way right now for either party,” Dunlap said.
As of mid-October, 33 percent of voters in Maine were registered as Democrats, 28 percent as Republicans, 3 percent as Green Independents and 36 percent were unenrolled.
In Bangor, 4,137 voters had turned in absentee ballots as of Monday afternoon. There are about 22,000 registered voters in the city.
In addition to voting for political offices, Mainers will also weigh in on several referenda questions.
Question 1 on the ballot asks voters whether they want to allow Black Bear Entertainment to open a four-season resort casino in Oxford County.
Supporters claim the facility will create much-needed jobs in this economically distressed part of Maine while generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue for education, Indian tribes and state programs. But opponents, including Maine’s Indian tribes and Hollywood Slots racino in Bangor, claim it will create inequities by allowing table games, such as blackjack, at only one location in Maine.
Question 2 on the ballot asks whether the state should borrow $5 million in the form of bonds in order to create a dental school and upgrade community dental clinics.
Question 3 proposes $9.75 million in bonds for land conservation, working waterfront preservation and investments in state parks. The bonds would be matched by $9.25 million in federal and other funds.