Gubernatorial candidates Adam Cote, left, and Janet Mills are seen at the Democratic convention in May. On Monday, a national group backing Mills dumped $300,000 into the race, setting aside most of it to attack attorney Cote, who could be rising in a crowded field. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

BANGOR, Maine — A national group backing Attorney General Janet Mills in Maine’s Democratic gubernatorial primary dumped $300,000 into the race this week, setting aside most of it to attack attorney Adam Cote, who could be rising in a crowded field.

The campaign arm of EMILY’s List, a national group backing female Democratic candidates, committed $300,000 on Monday to a new political committee called Maine Women Together that registered with the state last week. It spent $200,000 on digital advertising by Tuesday — less than a week before the June 12 primary to replace the term-limited Gov. Paul LePage.

Mills of Farmington was endorsed by EMILY’s List in January. The group has Maine connections after hiring Emily Cain, a former Democratic legislator who lost two 2nd Congressional District races in 2014 and 2016, as its executive director nearly a year ago.

Seven Democrats and four Republicans are running for their gubernatorial nominations next week, and the races are unsettled. The only public poll in the race — published in early May by the Bangor Daily News — had Mills and Republican Shawn Moody as the front-runners.

That was long ago in campaign time and before candidates went up with television ads. Maine’s primaries will also be the first statewide races in U.S. history to be decided by ranked-choice voting and Cote raised nearly $1 million by last weekend, more than any other primary hopeful. Such a large expense indicates that Mills’ backers see Cote as her main threat.

Mills and Cote also have been jousting more than any of the other candidates as Democrats pitch themselves to a progressive primary base. At a Tuesday debate in Augusta, they sparred on Mills’ past endorsements from the National Rifle Association when she was a legislator.

It’s unclear exactly what Maine Women Together will do with all of the money. A Facebook archive showed that the group only paid for three pro-Mills ads on that social media platform as of Wednesday afternoon. All were targeted to Maine women in different age categories.

Since their filing says they will oppose Cote, the group will likely do negative advertising against him. The group also backed U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in her first run for the 1st Congressional District, when she had to beat Cote and four other Democrats in the primary.

In a statement, Cote said Mainers should “reject this kind of desperate, out of state influence.”

Michael Ambler, Mills’ campaign manager, said that the group is often aggressive when backing candidates that it has endorsed, so their involvement is “not surprising.”

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...