EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud will return to Washington after solidly defeating Republican challenger and state Senate President Kevin Raye in a 2nd District race that was supposed to be close.

As of 12:45 a.m. Wednesday, the East Millinocket Democrat had 112,590 votes, or 58 percent, to Raye’s 80,808 votes, or 42 percent. Michaud said he looked forward to applying the lessons learned from this campaign.

“Elections are a good time for a healthy exchange of ideas, and to hear about the deepest concerns from the constituents of this district. I’ve heard the concerns, and I’ve heard some really good ideas,” Michaud said.

Raye said he, like many legislators across Maine and the U.S., was caught “in a pretty significant wave of Democratic” victories that have made elections seem like electoral ping pong. In 2008, voters went overwhelmingly Democratic. Republicans bounced back in 2010, and now, the shift returns leftward, Raye said.

“I don’t know a lot about this election yet,” Raye said late Tuesday night, “but it seems like there is a hardening of the wings of both political parties” that leaves centrists such as himself on thinner ice.

“The center is the place where the work gets done and the constituency gets built, but that area seems to be diminished,” Raye said.

The Michaud-Raye rematch was supposed to be tight, with Raye regarded as the strongest challenger the former paper mill worker from East Millinocket had faced in his 10 years as a congressman.

Raye, who ran a close race against Michaud in 2002, had a political profile heightened enough a decade ago to achieve “Young Gun” status, the top tier of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s successful national recruitment program for open-seat and challenger races.

A moderate Republican and small-business man from Perry who was unanimously elected Maine Senate president in 2010, Raye touted his success as a leader who could reach across the political aisle to get things done.

Those accomplishments included balancing the state budget, reducing state debt, enacting the largest tax cut in Maine history, strengthening the state retirement system and reforming welfare. Friendly, outgoing and articulate, Raye was happy to cast himself in the mold of his mentor, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, and said he cherished being named in a poll of Augusta Democrats the leader most likely to change their minds.

But Michaud’s camp counted on his enduring popularity in the Katahdin region and Aroostook County — areas where a Republican might flourish that are typically far less liberal than southern Maine.

Michaud has worked to pass the Small Business Jobs Act, and passed an amendment to a law that spurred more than $132 million in small-business lending in Maine, both ripostes to Raye’s claim that a vote for Michaud was bad for business.

Michaud had very strong support from veterans, having worked to help create veterans clinics throughout his district. Michaud worked to form a northern border trade commission designed to help create and regulate trade with Canada and jobs in Maine.

He also, his supporters said, worked hard to protect the state’s New Balance athletic shoe factories and has been a persistent critic of China’s trade policies, which substantially undercut several Maine industries.

Michaud said he looked forward to working with U.S. Sen.-elect Angus King and re-elected 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, and reaching across the aisle in Congress.

Raye expressed gratitude to his supporters and said he loved campaigning. He said he would finish his final term in the state Senate, thanks to term limits, in December before returning to his Raye’s Mustard Mill in Eastport. But he is unsure what else he will do.

“I had a big red circle around the 6th on my calendar, and that had all my attention,” Raye said.