Minority Republicans gained at least eight seats in the Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday, but Democrats unseated the top Senate Republican in a mixed election that will only slightly change the political landscape in the second half of Gov. Janet Mills’ first term.
Democrats will pick up one Senate seat on net, leaving them with 22 out of the 35 seats in the upper chamber for their largest majority in decades. But Republicans eroded the Democratic majority in the lower chamber with several wins, setting up a far narrower 80-67 majority with four independents also in the chamber.
The Legislature faces a high-stakes session in 2021. It will be faced with closing much of a projected $1.4 billion revenue shortfall over three years due to the coronavirus pandemic. There is little appetite for tax hikes among Republicans and many Democrats. The new crop of lawmakers also looks to be more hostile to the $1 billion Central Maine Power corridor.
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Girding for a competitive cycle, Democratic outside groups outspent Republican ones by a three-to-one margin in 2020 legislative races. Much of it went toward defending vulnerable incumbents, as Republicans aimed for Democrats who hold conservative or swing districts.
In Democrats’ biggest pickup of the night, progressive Rep. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, knocked off Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro. Democrat Joe Rafferty, the longtime Kennebunk High School football coach, defeated Kennebunk Town Manager Michael Pardue in another pickup for party in a district held by an outgoing Republican.
Republicans did far better on the House side, picking up two seats in the Lewiston-Auburn area, with Laurel Libby defeating Rep. Bettyann Sheats, D-Auburn, in the most expensive House race of the cycle. Across the river, Air Force veteran Jonathan Connor defeated Rep. Jim Handy, D-Lewiston, a rare win for a Republican in Lewiston.
Former state Rep. Randall Greenwood, R-Wales, who defeated Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth, by 49 votes. Greenwood lost to Ackley in 2016 and 2018. Republican Michael Lemelin of Chelsea defeated Democrat Chris Hamilton of Whitefield to win the seat vacated by Maxmin.
In one of the more surprising results of the election, a deep-red House district centered in Dover-Foxcroft was won by Richard Evans, a Democrat who won only 35.7 percent of votes but benefited from a split between Republican Chad Perkins at 33.3 percent and incumbent Rep. Norman Higgins, a former Republican who is now an independent, at 31.1 percent.
Only one Senate Democrat looked to lose their seat as of Wednesday morning. Sen. Mike Carpenter, D-Houlton, lost to Assistant House Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle. Incumbents including Sens. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, and Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, all survived major challenges from the opposing parties.