Obama Endorsements, Spending Spikes Highlight High-Stakes Maine Races

By Shepherd, Michael | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), October 2, 2018 | Go to article overview

Obama Endorsements, Spending Spikes Highlight High-Stakes Maine Races


Shepherd, Michael, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


Good morning from Augusta, where ever-increasing outside spending and a new round of Democratic endorsements from former President Barack Obama are helping to light up battlegrounds on the map in the race for control of the Maine Legislature.

Outside groups have spent nearly $4 million in state races so far, with more than $3.4 million of that going into the governor's race. But the targeting in legislative races has begun -- particularly among Democrats who want expand a lead in the House of Representatives and take the Senate, which Republicans control by just one seat.

The early Senate battlegrounds are predictable -- with perhaps one exception in the early going. The hottest Maine Senate race so far is centered on Auburn, where Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, is facing Democratic physician Ned Claxton of Auburn. Groups have already sunk nearly $65,000 into the race.

The next big-ticket races are in Kennebec County -- one in a Waterville-area district between state Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, and former state Rep. Karen Kusiak, D-Fairfield, that has seen $45,000 in outside spending and one on the outskirts of Augusta between Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, and Republican Matt Stone of West Gardiner that has seen $44,000.

That latter race is a bit of a surprise, since other Senate swing districts have gotten more attention, like the races between Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, and former state Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, and House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and former state Rep. Jayne Crosby Giles, R-Belfast.

Stone grew up in Litchfield, but he ran unsuccessfully for a Senate seat out of Biddeford two years ago. But many Republicans are bullish on the seat that was long held by Republicans before Bellows took it in a three-way race in 2016. Democrats are spending like they're a bit worried, throwing in nearly all of that total so far.

Democrats are targeting other districts that haven't been in play for a while, including an open seat in York County being contested by Rep. Robert Foley, R-Wells, and former state Rep. Thomas Wright, D-Berwick. Wright and Kusiak got new Obama endorsements on Monday.

The former president's Maine endorsements were also focused on House races, where it's harder to gauge the map so far. In southern Maine seats where Democrats hope the national environment will help them in 2018, Obama endorsements included Diane Denk of Kennebunk, Tiffany Roberts-Lovell of South Berwick and Chris Caiazzo of Scarborough, who are running open-seat races against Republicans Roger Seavey of Kennebunkport, Manley Gove of North Berwick and former House Minority Leader Linwood Higgins of Scarborough, respectively.

Obama also waded into some difficult districts. One was through his endorsement of Democrat Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro in an open-seat race in Kennebec and Lincoln counties with Republican Michael Lemelin of Chelsea in a seat held for eight years by a Republican.

As outside spending rises in these races, we'll be able to gauge the map better. The Obama endorsements shouldn't be seen as news on their own, but a set of priorities for his party that include a mix of attainable and aspirational seats.

LePage blames referendums for widening structural gap

The governor is leaving a budget roadmap for his successor and his take on the structural gap was an extension of that. Gov. Paul LePage's budget department issued a Monday statement saying the state will face a $504 million structural gap to be handled when Maine's next governor and the new Legislature get to Augusta in January. It would be the biggest gap that officials have faced since 2013 while crafting a new two-year budget.

The LePage administration blamed three items for driving the impending gap -- unfunded but voter-approved Medicaid expansion, a scheduled increase in municipal revenue sharing and the state's voter-approved goal of funding 55 percent of essential K-12 education costs. …

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