AUGUSTA, Maine— Republicans believed the Blaine House was theirs all along. GOP control of the Senate was a distinct possibility.
But taking the House, too?
That was a surprise.
“I think the stars were all aligned yesterday in Maine, for really the trifecta: the Republican governor, the Republican House, the Republican Senate,” said Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.
Wednesday morning, hundreds of enthusiastic Republicans packed into the State House’s Hall of Flags to celebrate that trifecta.
“We had a pretty good night,” said Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, the outgoing House minority leader. “I’m proud to say Republicans have been ready for this for quite some time.”
According to unofficial results compiled by the Bangor Daily News, the party will now have 20 seats in the Senate, Democrats will have 14 and there is one unenrolled senator, with one recount under way. In the House, Republicans will hold 77 seats, and Democrats will hold 73. There is one unenrolled representative, and three recounts are under way.
The last time Republicans held the House, Senate and governor’s office was in 1964, according to state records.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said his office was still reviewing the results.
“We are going to have some recounts: a couple in the Senate and a handful in the House,” Dunlap said. “As far as the rest is concerned, it’s very tough to say.”
But the atmosphere in the State House was, in Sen. Kevin Raye’s estimation, “jubilant.”
“It is a new day in Augusta,” said Raye, the Perry Republican who has been minority leader in the Senate, but is widely considered in line to be the next Senate president. “We stand before you thrilled with your victory, but humbled with the task that lies ahead.”
The Maine GOP recognized that to win the November elections, “we had to be the party for the working class,” said Tardy, and that theme was stressed Wednesday. Party chairman Charlie Webster noted that he’s an oil furnace repairman, “as blue collar as you get.”
“The Democrats of Maine have kind of lost their way,” said Webster.
Brian Duff, a political scientist at the University of New England, said one factor in the legislative races was, in fact, the governor’s race. Republican candidate Paul LePage, who won by a narrow margin, had strong support in rural Maine, Duff noted. While you can’t really say a candidate who won with 38 percent of the vote has coattails to ride on, that was sort of the case — at least in rural Maine, Duff suggested.
“The farther you got away from Portland in Maine, the more and more moderate and liberal voters stayed home and the conservatives were really fired up,” said Duff. “There were a lot of people up north really excited to vote for Paul LePage.”
Duff said this was new territory for the state.
“This is going to be a whole new thing for Maine,” said Duff. “This is so new for Maine that I have a feeling the Republican leaders themselves do not have a sense of what the heck they’re going to do with this power.”
And LePage, a very conservative Republican, may not get full support from some of the more moderate Republicans in the Legislature, Duff said.
“I think he’s got a vision about minimal government and he’s going to go with that vision,” said Duff. “I actually think he will get some resistance from the many moderate Republicans.”
But at Wednesday’s celebration, Republican unity was evident. LePage wasn’t at the rally, but his name drew heavy applause and cheers. Several of his primary rivals were in attendance, including Bruce Poliquin, Bill Beardsley and Les Otten.
Dominant themes at the rally included smaller, leaner government and a sense of a mandate from the voters to lead Maine to prosperity.
“They believe it is the Republican Party that is best equipped to lead us into the future,” said Raye.
Webster also tapped into an undercurrent of frustration that goes beyond Maine and across the nation, if election results across the country are any indication.
“We’re sick and tired of the attitude that government is going to take from those of us who work hard and redistribute, simply because they can do it,” said Webster to a huge cheers.
Raye told the crowd that the party taking over governance faces a “daunting challenge.”
“We have a big mess to clean up,” said Raye. “We can do it.”
“Yes, we can,” many in the crowd shouted back — co-opting the rallying cry of the Obama candidacy.
Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, was one of a few Democratic legislators at the State House on Wednesday. Cain bristled at some of the comments about Democrats losing their way, or leaving a mess.
“These are elections, not coronations,” said Cain.
She acknowledged that Republicans took both houses and the governor’s seat. But she noted the close margins in both houses, and the fact that LePage won the Blaine House with a plurality. The same voters also re-elected Democrats Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree to Congress, she added. She suggested that voters are looking for some change, but still support core Democratic principles.
She said legislators in the House from both parties have become accustomed to working with each other in a bipartisan fashion on budgets, bonding and policies, and Democrats expect that to continue.
“I know I do,” she said.
Outgoing House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, called Tuesday night “disappointing.” She pointed to larger political winds affecting the Maine races.
“As much as House races are local, I think the returns show the national sentiment, the tsunami,” Pingree said. “I think a lot of our folks got swept up in that.”
Pingree said negative mailings also hit incumbents on issues like gay marriage and tax restructuring, two Democratic initiatives that were repealed by voters. While she won’t be in the House, Pingree said she expected Democrats would work constructively with Republicans going forward. But she suggested that Democrats may regain control of the House in 2012.
“I think it will become more clear to the people of Maine, which direction the Republicans want to take the state in,” said Pingree.
Current Majority Whip Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said the vote was not a referendum on Democratic ideals, and that his party had to reconnect with voters. Democrats and Republicans must collaborate on important issues such as education and health care, he said.