AUGUSTA –– Candidates for the 186 seats in the Maine Legislature have begun knocking on voters’ doors, as the Democratic and Republican parties seek an edge in setting policy for the state on issues such as jobs, taxes, education and the drug crisis.

The State House races will also be a test of the influence of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has spent the last 18 months hosting dozens of town halls across the state, detailing his positions on taxes, energy, welfare and education and urging voters to dump legislators from either party who don’t support them.

If his efforts pay off, Maine’s self-proclaimed “not politically correct” governor will have support for his conservative agenda – one that’s cut state income taxes and tightened scrutiny for welfare recipients, among other things.

But if he fails, LePage faces becoming the lamest of lame ducks, as he tries to preside over a Legislature controlled largely by his rival Democrats, with whom he has had an increasingly combative relationship.

Democrats are hoping to increase their majority in the House, where they now hold 78 of the 151 seats, and recapture control of the Senate, where they now hold 15 seats to the Republicans’ 20. Democrats want large majorities in both houses for the express purpose of marginalizing LePage in his last two years in office, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said.

But Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said Republican candidates don’t need to shy away from supporting LePage or even telling voters how they disagree with their governor.

“We always want to put people who are willing to work with the governor in office,” Savage said. “But you can go in and work with the governor even if you don’t always agree with him. The thing we need to be careful of is just putting people in office who want to play games and don’t want to get anything done.”


Overall there are eight Democrats and six Republicans in the House who are running unopposed. In the Senate, Republican Kim Rosen of Bucksport has no competitor in District 8, as does Democrat Nate Libby of Lewiston in District 21.

LePage’s town hall meetings, which he started in February 2015 in Westbrook – just two months after the current Legislature was installed and three months after he won re-election – have been the governor’s best effort at taking full advantage of the so-called “bully pulpit.” At each town hall, LePage also lays out his opposition to all five citizen initiative ballot questions before voters this year. And at almost every stop LePage also urges voters to ask candidates running for state office tough questions, encouraging them to elect lawmakers, either Democrat or Republican, who will work with him.

“Hold their feet to the fire,” LePage told an audience in Sanford in mid-August. “There is one legislator in Augusta that said to me, ‘Listen to those campaign promises, people don’t expect you to hold up to them.’ ”

Later that month in North Berwick, LePage again lamented a lack of legislative cooperation on his efforts to lower the income tax.

“Poverty has Maine stricken,” LePage said. “We don’t have enough people in Augusta to take on the economic policies that other states have taken on and (those other states) are moving faster than we are.”

At Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris in July, LePage said, “You need to follow up on what they are doing, and if they’re not doing what you want, throw the bum out.”

Some Democratic leaders say LePage’s personality and his policies will be a significant factor in the 2016 elections, especially in the 26 Maine House Districts and seven state Senate Districts that were decided by less than 5 percent of the vote in 2014.


But Republican leaders say recent controversies around an obscenity-laced voice message LePage left for a Democratic lawmaker in reaction to criticism leveled against the governor for comments he made regarding race and drug trafficking are fading from voters’ minds.

“I think that while Democrats want to paint the governor as a big factor in this race, public opinion has shifted and people, by a factor of like five to one, now think the Democrats have gone too far to make political gains out of that,” Savage said. “Maine people like the governor’s policies, they like what he has done for the state and they want him to be able to continue that work.”

Savage said most voters are more interested in talking about issues that affect them directly, such as efficient use of taxpayer money, roads and bridges in their communities and other “hyperlocal” issues.

But Bartlett said LePage is more of a factor than Republicans want to let on.

“Our candidates are hearing it at the door every day,” Bartlett said.

But like Savage, Bartlett also said voters have key issues they are concerned with beyond LePage, including the state’s ongoing opioid drug crisis, job creation and property taxes.

While there are at least 35 seats in both the House and Senate that could be in play in this election cycle, here are some where the “LePage effect” is likely to be a factor:

Senate District 1 in far northern Maine is an open seat vacated by retiring Sen. Peter Edgecomb, a Republican. In the race is former state Sen. Troy Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash, and Timothy Guerrette, a Caribou Republican. Jackson, a former state Senate assistant majority leader, gained statewide prominence in his failed bid to be the Democratic candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in 2014. The seat has consistently been held by a Republican and Jackson’s name recognition will likely be offset by Guerrette, whose hometown is also home to the region’s largest block of voters.

Senate District 2, also in northern Maine and also another open seat, will see conservative Republican and former state Rep. Ricky Long of Sherman face Democrat Michael Carpenter, a former Maine attorney general from Houlton. Carpenter also ran for the seat in 2014, to be narrowly defeated by Michael Willette, a Presque Isle Republican, who decided not to seek re-election. Willette beat Carpenter by just 195 votes.

Senate District 3 features state Rep. Jeff McCabe, a Democrat from Skowhegan and the outgoing House majority leader, facing off against incumbent state Sen. Rod Whittemore, a Skowhegan Republican. While Whittemore handily defeated his opponent in 2014, McCabe is a far more high-profile opponent who has been at the forefront of dozens of Democratic conflicts with LePage.

Senate District 11 will feature a rematch between incumbent Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and Democrat Jonathan Fulford of Monroe. Thibodeau won re-election to the seat in 2014 with just 115 more votes than Fulford. After a breakdown in negotiations with Democratic leaders in late August, Thibodeau opted not to poll Senate members about a possible special session to sanction LePage.

Senate District 16 will feature incumbent Republican Scott Cyrway, a former Kennebec County deputy sheriff and the state’s DARE training coordinator, facing off against state Rep. Henry Beck, a Waterville Democrat who is termed out of the House. While Cyrway handily won election in 2014, Beck, an attorney who has also served on the Waterville City Council, is a more formidable opponent with an election history that shows he, too, is widely popular.

Senate District 25 will see incumbent Democrat Cathy Breen of Falmouth face Republican challenger Barton Ladd, also of Falmouth. Breen won the seat by seven votes in 2014 after two recounts, and an investigation into voter and ballot fraud revealed a simple counting error made by Secretary of State officials involved in the recount efforts. Breen took the seat after her opponent, Republican Cathleen Manchester of Gray, had been provisionally seated in the Senate.


Voters in close districts can also expect to be inundated with advertising from outside groups.

In 2012 the state broke records for outside spending, and in 2014 that trend continued with the Democratic and Republican parties, along with a host of special interest groups, pouring more than $2.3 million into legislative races – much of that money flowing into several dozen close races.

In early October, Mainers will get to see how that money is being spent, once the next campaign finance reports are filed on Sept. 30. In 2014, expenditures by Democrats and their allies far exceeded those of Republican groups. So far in 2016, Democrats are again outpacing Republicans in the amount of outside money that’s flowing into their respective state party political action committees.

National third-party groups also played a large financial role in Maine’s legislative races, reflecting a trend in which the two national parties and their supporters are trying to influence policy decisions in state capitals as well as in Washington, D.C.

That trend also appears to be continuing. Between Jan. 1, 2015, and July 19, 2016, the Democrats’ primary Senate war chest – the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee – raised $369,426, while its Republican equivalent, the Maine Senate Republican Majority, received $151,518, according to campaign finance disclosures filed with the State Ethics Commission.

Similarly, the House Democratic Campaign Committee – which raises money for that party’s candidates to the House – raised $310,654 during the same period. The rival House Republican Majority Fund raised $176,877.

Democrats benefited from $110,000 contributions to each of the funds by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C., made in September 2015, making this national party entity far and away the largest donor to the local funds, which are typically used to support legislative candidates and the election year overhead of the state parties.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Sen. Peter Edgecomb as Roger Edgecomb.