MILLINOCKET — The rematch is over.
After several months of tough campaigning in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and more than $1.5 million in campaign spending, Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud bested Republican Kevin Raye for a second time Tuesday.
Election results were still trickling in late Tuesday night, but shortly after 11 p.m., Michaud declared victory during a speech in East Millinocket. Michaud said he looks forward to serving the district over the next two years in Washington D.C. He also called for more cooperation among politicians.
“Hopefully we’ll have a Congress that’s willing to put aside partisan politics and focus on issues,” he said. “Thank you very much and God bless.”
About the same time, Raye acknowledged the election was becoming an uphill battle, but he didn’t outright concede late Tuesday.
“As we look at the returns, it’s difficult for me to see a path to victory,” Raye said. “I wanted to come down and let you know that, and I wanted to thank you.”
Suddenly, Raye’s wife, Karen, exclaimed, “But it’s not over until it’s over!”
Ten years ago, Michaud edged Raye by a mere 4 percentage points for an open seat in Washington. Since then, Raye has become an influential state legislator and a successful small-business owner, which led many to speculate this would be the toughest fight of Michaud’s career.
Michaud, 57, was fashionably late to his own election night party. The event was held at Grassroots Catering restaurant on Main Street — within sight of Great Northern Paper mill where Michaud was employed for nearly three decades. There, about 40 friends, family members and supporters rose to their feet and applauded when the silver-haired Democrat strolled in at 9:15 p.m., wearing a blue v-neck sweater, a collared shirt and khakis.
Michaud made the rounds, hugging small children and shaking hands with adults. As the applause subsided, Michaud continued speaking to every person while the room hushed to a seemingly reverent silence.
Meanwhile, Republican challenger Kevin Raye, 51, held court in Bangor with supporters — including Sen. Olympia Snowe and former Gov. John McKernan — in the Sheraton Four Points hotel. A pyramid of Raye’s mustard, specially branded with “Kevin Raye for Congress” stickers, sat outside the room next to mustard-colored Raye for Congress shirts.
Snowe gushed support for Raye to an appreciative audience.
“It is an honor for me to be here, to stand with Kevin,” Snowe said. “We’re truly grateful for the approach that he took in the Senate. The approach of being constructive, and respectful, and proactive, and using one of the most productive legislative sessions in recent history. And certainly with Republican control he understood the magnitude of that obligation. And so that’s why he understands what direction to take this state and this country.”
Throughout the campaign, Raye touted himself as the business-friendly candidate with the energy and political chops to untangle partisan gridlock in Washington. Michaud positioned himself as a defender of U.S. manufacturing and a staunch advocate for veterans.
However, the opponents were often more notable for their similarities than their differences. Both are considered moderates within their parties. They support abortion choice, a balanced budget amendment, a reduction of U.S. military bases on foreign soil and a range of domestic energy sources — from fossil fuels to wind, solar and tidal power. Both also oppose a proposal by landowner Roxanne Quimby to create a national park in the Maine North Woods.
The greatest contrast between the candidates was apparent in discussions on the Affordable Care Act. Michaud has consistently voted in favor of the sweeping legislation, saying it’s “not perfect,” but it’s a good start. Raye said he would vote to repeal so-called Obamacare, and his campaign claimed Michaud has had plenty of opportunities to tweak the law, if he was truly interested.
Michaud cut his political teeth in the state Legislature more than 30 years ago, representing East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket. As a millworker, an outdoorsman and a high school graduate, Michaud fought to reduce river pollution by the paper industry — the same industry that employed him at the time. Michaud was able to strike a balance between the two forces — maintaining jobs while protecting the environment, which set the tone for his long political career.
Michaud served in the Maine House of Representatives for seven terms beginning in 1980, then served four terms in the state senate, beginning in 1994. He also was senate president in 2000.
According to paperwork filed with the Federal Election Committee, Michaud was on track to outspend Raye by almost double — $942,000 versus $554,000, as of Oct. 17. Both candidates had received sizable contributions from political action committees, but Michaud has received a much higher percentage from PACs — 62 percent compared to 17 percent of Raye’s total, as of Sept. 30.
Mid-morning Tuesday, as a stream of voters left a polling station in Fairfield, many expressed conflicted feelings about the race for the 2nd District.
Dave Clifford, 60, voted for Michaud, but might have voted for Raye, if it weren’t for some lingering doubts about his moderate status.
“It was kind of a tossup,” he said. “If the tea party pushes Raye, I wonder if he would push back.”
Charles Boyd, 75, a retired Army veteran said he’s a registered Democrat, “but not today.” Boyd pulled the lever for Raye saying incumbents in the House are too partisan.
Richard Dostie, 64, voted for Michaud without hesitation.
“He’s very intelligent, he’s worked hard. He is certainly one of us, in terms of being a worker, and somebody who knows the middle and lower class.”
Zach Connerty-Marin contributed reporting from Bangor.