Maine Democrats and their allies are outspending Republicans 4 to 1 in an effort to retain control of both the House and Senate during a high-stakes election year that is widely expected to favor their opponents.

If successful, Democrats would maintain the ability to elect constitutional officers, including the secretary of state and attorney general. And if Gov. Janet Mills also wins reelection over Republican Paul LePage, the party would have the power to implement policies on issues such as abortion, taxes, health care and energy.

On the other hand, if either party wins one or both houses of the Legislature but loses the Blaine House, it would still have the power to impede the next governor’s priorities.

From September through Oct. 7, state parties and political action groups spent more than $2 million on Maine’s legislative races. That’s substantially more than the roughly $850,000 spent over the same period by outside groups in 2020 and the $204,330 spent during the same period in 2018. And outside spending tends to increase as Election Day draws closer.

The vast majority of this year’s spending – more than $1.6 million – is aimed at swaying votes for seats in the Senate, where Democrats now hold 22 of the 35 seats. That suggests both parties see control of the upper chamber as the most likely to flip from Democrats to Republicans.

While the battle for the Legislature is intense, it doesn’t draw the same level of targeted spending as the governor’s race. Outside groups have spent about $8.4 million since September trying to influence the gubernatorial election.


The groups trying to sway legislative contests can spend money directly to influence a race but can’t coordinate with individual candidates, who are raising and spending much smaller amounts of money to run their own campaigns.

The Maine Senate has flipped four times in the last six elections. Republicans would need to hold their 13 seats and flip five Democratic seats to take control. And they have a slight advantage when it comes to open seats: 10 incumbents – six Democrats and four Republicans – are termed out of office and unable to run for reelection.

Much of the spending is aimed at protecting high-profile Democratic incumbents, such as Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash, Sen. Craig Hickman of Winthrop and Sen. Chip Curry of Belfast.

House races, meanwhile, are not attracting as much outside spending, with outside groups investing about $553,000. Most of that money – $330,000 – is going to support Democrats, who have held the lower chamber for 28 of the last 30 years. Democrats currently hold 76 of 151 seats and Republicans would need to pick up 13 seats to gain a clear majority. Nine seats are currently vacant and independents hold three seats.

The spending advantage for Democrats is nothing new, especially over the last decade. That’s not surprising, seeing how much of their support comes from wealthier parts of the state – Southern Maine and the coast – while Republican support comes from more interior, rural areas.

But having the most money doesn’t always guarantee victory, according to political observers on both sides who agreed that candidate quality is the primary driver of success.


Charlie Webster, who served as chairman of the Maine Republican Party from 2008 to 2012, helped Republicans take control of the Blaine House and both chambers of the Legislature in 2010. Since then, Webster said, Democrats have “bought the Legislature” thanks to out-of-state fundraising efforts, allowing them to spend big on their target districts.

Since 2013, the Maine Democratic Party has raised more than $18 million, with more than $12 million coming from national Democratic groups supporting party candidates for Legislature, governor and Congress. Conversely, the Maine Republican Party has raised about $13.7 million, with nearly $7.2 million coming from the Republican Governors Association.

Still, Webster thinks Republicans will perform better than many expect and could potentially win both chambers.

“(Maine Republicans) don’t have the money,” said Webster, who is retired from politics. As party chairman, he said it took two years to raise $800,000 to $900,000. “The good thing is it won’t matter this time. The Republicans have fielded a much better slate of candidates and I would not be surprised if they surprised the whole country.”

David Farmer, a Democratic strategist not working on any campaigns this year, said his party is mounting an aggressive push to keep its majorities and the outside spending offers a roadmap for keeping control of the Legislature. He said strong fundraising signals strong support for Democratic candidates, allowing them to spread their messages through direct mailings and radio and even television ads, in addition to one-on-one voter contacts.

Democrats have been focusing on the threat to abortion access, in part, to motivate donors. They hope to overcome the historic disadvantage faced by the party controlling the White House during midterm elections.


“By focusing on local issues and strong candidates, they’re in a position to outpace that national environment,” Farmer said, noting the national headwinds of having a Democratic president and concerns about inflation. “If you look at the paths both parties have, there are a lot more opportunities for the Democrats to be successful and the Republicans have to be almost perfect.”

In outside spending, the Maine Democratic State Committee is leading the way, spending nearly $1.2 million on legislative races. That’s about seven times more than the nearly $172,000 that the Maine Republican Party, Maine Republican Senate Majority PAC and House Republican Fund have spent combined.

Democrats are also getting a boost from out-of-state groups, such as the American Leadership Committee-Maine, which has spent nearly $150,000. That group was founded by the Democratic Legislative Committee, which is the leadership committee’s largest donor. Pine Tree Action has spent $65,000 on Democratic candidates. That PAC is founded by Forward Majority Action, a national progressive super PAC, and Rebuild Maine, a local group founded by the progressive Maine People’s Alliance and labor unions, which has spent an additional $101,000 on Democratic candidates.

Republicans, meanwhile, are getting out-of-state help from the U.S. Term Limits PAC, a Washington, D.C.-based group that has spent about $41,500. But the biggest booster of Republican candidates is Blueprint for Maine’s Future, a PAC run by state Rep. Dustin White, R-Presque Isle, and former Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, that has dropped $117,000.

In the most expensive battleground race, Senate leader Jackson is being challenged by Rep. Sue Bernard, R-Caribou, in District 1, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats. Outside groups have spent nearly $265,000 since September, with all but $41,000 of that going to help Jackson, who has raised nearly $68,000 for his reelection – about $12,000 more than Bernard’s campaign has raised.

Outside spending is also helping Hickman, of Winthrop, in his race against Rep. Jeff Hanley, R-Pittston, in District 14 in Kennebec County, which includes Gardiner, Hallowell and Winthrop. Groups not affiliated with either candidate have spent nearly $240,000 in that race. Of that, more than $207,000 has been spent to help Hickman, including $9,600 spent by the Democratic Party opposing Hanley.


A swing district seat being vacated by Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, is seeing a significant investment as well. Democratic allies have spent nearly $140,000 in support of Democrat Cameron Reny, who is running against Republican Abden Simmons.

Other local battlegrounds include the races for District 26, an open seat formerly held by Democrat Bill Diamond representing the Sebago Lake region towns of Windham and Raymond. Democrat Timothy Nangle is running against Republican Gary Plummer and outside spending in that race has topped $68,000. A Senate seat in Auburn being vacated by Democrat Sen. Ned Claxton is also in the mix, with groups spending over $232,000 in the race between Republican Eric Brakey and Democrat Bettyann Sheats.

Outside groups are also focusing on the race for District 30, which includes Gorham and part of Scarborough, between incumbent Sen. Stacey Brenner, D-Scarborough, and Republican Timothy Thorsen of Gorham. Outside spending in that race is approaching $28,000.

Battlegrounds are also becoming clearer in the House races. The race in District 83, which includes Casco, is seeing the most outside spending – nearly $23,000 – with nearly $15,000 being spent to support incumbent Rep. Walter Riseman, I-Harrison, as he runs for reelection against Republican Donna Dodge. That’s one of three races seeing at least $20,000 in spending by outside groups.

Independent groups are spending nearly $19,500 on District 48, which includes Boothbay Harbor, where incumbent Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay, is getting $14,000 of support in her race against Republican challenger Tricia Warren.

A similar amount, just over $19,000, is being spent on District 86, which includes Raymond, where incumbent Jessica Fay, D-Raymond, is benefiting from about $14,300 in support for her reelection against Republican Gregory Foster.

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