Less than two weeks from now, Mainers will cast their votes for governor.
If former Republican Gov. Paul LePage reclaims the office, it would be a first in state history — although other governors have served nonconsecutive terms, none have held the position for longer than eight years.
Voters have more to decide than just the state’s chief executive, however. Here’s everything you need to know before you hit the polls:
Who’s running for governor?
The battle between Mills and LePage is, of course, taking center stage this midterm election.
The two have a deep and contentious shared history, dating back to when Mills served as Maine’s attorney general for much of LePage’s two terms as governor. (Credit where it’s due, the Press Herald’s Randy Billings collected all the receipts.)
In fact, LePage has said he decided to run for a third, nonconsecutive term explicitly to unseat Mills. LePage moved to Florida and changed his residency to the Sunshine State immediately after Mills took office in 2019, but moved back to Maine in 2021 before jumping into the race.
LePage has attacked Mills on pocketbook issues, accusing her of driving up inflation by sending most taxpayers $850 rebates from a state budget surplus and of increasing energy prices through her policies on renewable energy. He has also accused her of not doing enough to counter the state’s opioid crisis — which took off during his administration — and of promoting “woke” education policies in K-12 schools.
LePage has attempted to temper the chaos and theatrics that characterized his time in office, including softening his divisive rhetoric on immigration, for instance. (Though, depending on the audience, you might hear a different version.)
Mills made history as Maine’s first female attorney general and then first woman governor. She has largely campaigned on her administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as its high vaccination rates and low death rates despite having the nation’s oldest population. She has also pointed to those $850 checks as offering critical assistance to Mainers struggling with rising costs for gas, groceries and heating oil while pledging to do more on inflation if reelected.
But a major focus of Mills’ campaign — and of Democrats, in general — has been that Maine “won’t go back” to the chaos and divisiveness of the LePage years. Democrats have also portrayed LePage and a Republican majority in the State House (more on that below) as a dire threat to Maine’s nearly 30-year-old law protecting women’s access to abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
The third candidate on the ballot is independent Sam Hunkler, a semi-retired physician from Washington County who is offering himself up as the collaborative consensus-builder not beholden to the major parties.
Hunkler is running an almost-zero-budget campaign, pledging not to accept any donations and aiming to spend just $5,000 of his own money. He also has not clearly outlined many policy specifics, insisting instead that he would listen to Mainers about the issues. But Hunkler has struggled to break through in a campaign that is drawing national interest and tens of millions of dollars in spending from the national parties to support Mills or LePage.
Who’s running for Congress?
Voters in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District are asked to choose between incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, former Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and independent Tiffany Bond, a near-perfect rematch of the 2018 race.
The state’s northernmost district is a bit of a purple anomaly, going for President Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020, but putting Golden in office in 2018 (and keeping him in power in 2020).
Poliquin sat out the 2020 race after a stinging defeat decided by ranked-choice voting — the first time it was employed in a federal election. He previously won the 2nd District seat in 2014 and 2016 and, before that, was state treasurer under LePage.
Golden, a military veteran, served two terms in the Maine House before his election to the U.S. House. And although ranked-choice voting came into play in the three-way 2018 race, Golden won the 2020 race outright against Republican challenger Dale Crafts.
Poliquin’s campaign has focused on issues straight out of the national Republican playbook, such as inflation, government spending, immigration, drugs coming across the southern border and energy prices. He has also tried to portray Golden as being too aligned with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (despite Golden voting against her as speaker twice) and with President Joe Biden.
Golden is a moderate Democrat who has campaigned on the fact that he has opposed the Pelosi and Biden agendas more than any other Democrat (which is true, according to analyses by ProPublica and FiveThirtyEight). In fact, he has repeatedly frustrated his Democratic House colleagues and many progressives in Maine with his votes against his party on gun control, COVID-19 relief packages, police reform and Biden’s Build Back Better plan. But he is also a staunch supporter of abortion rights and a voted to impeach former President Trump.
Bond is a family attorney running a low-budget campaign, encouraging supporters to donate money to charities or spend it with local businesses. No matter her odds of winning this year’s race, Bond is likely to influence the outcome through ranked-choice voting, as she did in 2018.
Bond participated in a question-and-answer session with Maine Public in lieu of a traditional debate, as neither Poliquin nor Golden appeared.
What about in southern Maine?
In Maine’s 1st Congressional District, voters will choose to either reelect Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree or replace her with Republican Ed Thelander.
Pingree was first elected to represent the more left-leaning, southern part of the state in 2008, defeating Republican Charlie Summers by about 9 percentage points. And her support has only grown, winning by 13 or more points in every general election since.
There hasn’t been a flurry of outside spending in the race — on either side — perhaps a sign of whether the race is seen as competitive.
Thelander, a former Navy SEAL, has never held political office and polls indicate that he’s relatively unknown to voters. While he’s run a somewhat conventional campaign against Pingree, he has also drawn criticism for his comments about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and debunked conspiracy theories.
Pingree and Thelander met on Maine Public’s debate stage on Oct. 12. The two clashed over the economy and inflation, as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and immigration.
Are there other races?
Neither Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins nor independent U.S. Sen. Angus King are up for reelection. They next face voters in 2026 and 2024, respectively.
The election will decide the balance of power in the state Legislature, which is made up of 186 legislators — 35 in the Senate and 151 in House.
State lawmakers are up for reelection every two years and the composition of the Legislature determines what state laws will be passed, what’s in the state’s two-year budget and often whether the sitting governor will be able to advance their policy agenda.
Currently Democrats control the Legislature, but Republicans are vying to take over both chambers, and redistricting is expected to make many contests more competitive than they already were. Millions of dollars have been spent on races that could determine which party will hold the majority when the new Legislature is seated in December.
The Maine Legislature also elects the state’s attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and state auditor. The contests for attorney general and secretary of state are particularly consequential. The attorney general acts as the state’s legal counsel, and as such, makes decisions about lawsuits to engage in. The secretary of state controls the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and election administration.
Are there any questions on the ballot?
There are no statewide referendums on the ballot. But voters may have local referendums to vote on — to see what’s on your local ballot, look up a sample from the Maine Secretary of State’s office here.
In particular, voters in Bar Harbor will decide whether to reduce the number of cruise ship passengers that may disembark in town on a daily basis. And in the Boothbay area, voters will consider whether to remove fluoride from the public water supply.
Portland voters have a huge number of local issues to vote on — so many, in fact, it warranted a separate guide, which you can read here.
What else do I need to know?
Maine has very permissive access to the polls — very few Mainers are limited from casting votes, and registration can be done up to and including on Election Day.
Absentee voting is taking place now — you may request a ballot up till Nov. 3, and must return it by close of polls at 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Maine Public has partnered with America Amplified to answer these and other questions you may have about voting — a list of frequently asked questions can be found here, or you can submit your question here.