Republicans, frustrated by their lack of power in state government amid the coronavirus pandemic, are looking to reclaim control of the Maine Legislature after Democrats seized control of Augusta in 2018, but they face an uphill battle as other races have captured attention.
Democrats have long held an advantage in the Maine House of Representatives, with Republicans only controlling the lower chamber for two years in the past two decades. The Senate, where Democrats currently hold 21 seats while Republicans have 14, presents a more favorable map. Republicans held control of the upper chamber between 2014 and 2018.
With two months until Election Day, Republicans face financial and environmental disadvantages. Democratic groups have far more money than Republicans with more Democrats running uncontested. A Bangor Daily News poll last month found that Democrats had an 8-percentage point edge on Republicans on a generic legislative ballot.
The election has special significance for both parties. The party controlling the Maine Legislature in 2021 will have more power in redistricting, which will set legislative boundaries for the next decade. It comes amid a global pandemic that has shaken up campaigning and as Maine has received outsized national attention due to competitive federal contests.
So far, political groups supporting Democratic legislative candidates have vastly outraised Republicans, according to state data. It is typical for Democrats to outraise Republicans in legislative races, but this year’s margins are greater than the 2018 Democratic wave year that swept Gov. Janet Mills and strong legislative majorities into the State House.
Part of that stems from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a national group aiming to help Democrats win state legislative seats that has poured $350,000 into Maine this year. Its Republican counterpart has only sent $75,000.
The Republican National Committee transferred more than $400,000 to Maine Republicans earlier this year, but that money largely went toward a still-uncertain people’s veto challenge to a ranked-choice voting law. Republicans have invested more in presidential politics in Maine than Democrats, though President Donald Trump trails former Vice President Joe Biden in polls here.
The fundraising gap for state legislative candidates “definitely puts us at a disadvantage,” said Ryan Lorrain, who runs the political committee supporting Republican House candidates, pointing to Democrats’ ability to spend on mail and ads.
Julia Brown, who manages Senate races for the Maine Democratic Party, noted money was one of only several factors that could swing a race, instead highlighting candidates’ work on community engagement activities like delivering groceries and offering rides.
Money is far from a guarantee of victory — several candidates lost primaries in July despite vastly outspending their opponents. But fundraising helps parties and candidates pay for mail and digital ads, which have taken on added importance as a substitute for some in-person events due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Democrats have already begun targeting certain races, with at least $6,200 in ads and mailers in competitive districts, according to state data. The party is supporting vulnerable incumbents including Sens. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, and Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, and going on the offensive against legislators including Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, who faces a challenge from progressive Rep. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro.
Legislative Republicans undertook independent expenditures in a handful of races ahead of the July primary, boosting several more moderate candidates whose victories give the party a better shot in swing districts in November, including former Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, who will face Luchini, who won his seat easily in 2018.
But Republicans’ general election spending has been limited to mailers backing Stephanie Anderson, the former Cumberland County district attorney running in a Democratic-leaning Senate district that includes Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough.
Nearly three dozen state legislative races are uncontested, and that mostly favors Democrats. Two Democrats are running unopposed in senate races, both from liberal districts representing Portland. Among House races, 22 Democrats are running unopposed compared to only 10 Republicans. Uncontested seats include House District 28, which is currently represented by Rep. Christopher Caiazzo, D-Scarborough, but was won by a Republican in 2016.
That still leaves 119 competitive House races and 33 contested Senate races, and both parties are continuing their campaign efforts with two months until Election Day.
“A district can be flipped by working hard, spending money efficiently and being a good candidate,” Lorrain said.