This is the third of four stories about voters in four communities as Maine prepares to elect a new governor. Next Sunday: Wilton

LEWISTON — Rashonda Bailey is conflicted.

The 28-year-old property manager said she’s generally supportive of the way Democratic incumbent Gov. Janet Mills handled the pandemic, but believes too much financial assistance was handed out by the government.

And, despite being a fiscal conservative, Bailey is not yet sold on former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has made the economy and controlling government spending a centerpiece of his campaign.

“I want to hear more from LePage about what he plans to do,” Bailey said earlier this month as she waited outside Farwell Elementary School to pick up her four children.

And the city she lives in is conflicted, too.


Some voters here say they are most concerned about the economy and inflation, as well as a state government they say has been spending too freely. Others point to abortion access as the issue that will be most important when they cast a ballot for Maine’s next governor. And many voters tend to have strong feelings about the top candidates, for better or worse.

It’s no wonder the city has divided loyalties. Both of the major party candidates have personal connections to Lewiston, a former industrial mill city overlooking Great Falls and the Androscoggin River. The city of 36,600 is central to LePage’s compelling biography and it’s where Mills cut her teeth as a public prosecutor and met her late husband.

Rashonda Bailey, photographed in her home in Lewiston, said she worries about government spending and is torn between the two top candidates for governor. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

LePage carried Lewiston in both of his successful campaigns for the Blaine House in 2010 and 2014. But so did Mills in 2018 when she defeated Republican Shawn Moody.

Born and raised as part of the city’s large Franco-American community, LePage escaped an abusive father at the age of 11 and lived on the streets for two years, working odd jobs while continuing to attend parochial school. He was taken in by area families who later helped him get into college, which opened doors, including those to the Blaine House.

The 74-year-old former governor has frequently repeated his story, especially when campaigning here, and referred to himself as “the walking symbol of the American dream.”

Mills, the Democratic incumbent and first woman to serve as Maine governor, was elected in 1980 as the District Attorney for Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin counties. During the first gubernatorial debate, held in Lewiston’s Franco Center, she highlighted her personal connection to the city.


“It’s good to be back in Lewiston, where I worked for 15 years and met and married my husband up the street at St. Joseph’s Church, and where I made many friends,” said Mills, who also is 74.

The candidates’ efforts to court Lewiston voters show how much Maine’s second-largest city is in play in November.

Maine Democrats recently launched neighborhood canvassing events there and held a press conference last week arguing that LePage’s policies will increase property taxes. The Republican National Committee recently held a campaign rally in Lewiston to kick off the final month of campaigning, and the Maine Republican Party office hosts one of two multicultural community centers there – part of a national immigrant outreach program. LePage made another campaign stop here on Friday.

Lewiston has been a swing district in gubernatorial elections for decades. Before LePage won here in 2010, Democrat John Baldacci carried the city in 2002 and 2006 and independent Angus King won there in 1994 and 1998.

The neighborhood surrounding The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The city itself is in transition. Once-thriving mill buildings along the river and canal no longer turn out textiles – they are being repurposed into housing, a brewery, restaurants and other uses. It is home to Bates College, a private liberal arts school. And it has been a destination for immigrants, including French Canadians who came in the 1870s and refugees from countries such as Somalia and asylum-seekers from sub-Saharan Africa who arrived over the past few decades.

The transitions are on display along Lisbon Street in the center of downtown, where one can find a mixture of pawn shops, cafes and restaurants, immigrant-owned businesses and marijuana stores.


Omar Bouraleh, a 43-year-old who immigrated from Africa and settled in Lewiston in 1996, said rising costs and the lack of affordable housing are the biggest issues for him and others in his community. But he also said immigrants don’t feel like candidates are paying attention to them.

“It seems like nobody comes to talk to us,” Bouraleh said, while eating lunch at the Masaski Cafe on Lisbon Street. “We work hard. We need people to come and talk to us.”

Omar Bouraleh, a business owner shown here in Lewiston’s downtown, said rising prices are a top concern. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Bouraleh, a father of three who owns two home health care businesses and employs about 20 people, said he feels like people assume that all immigrants are on welfare despite the fact that many are small-business owners and taxpayers who helped rejuvenate Lisbon Street over the last 20 years.

“If you remember, this street alone, there was cardboard in front of every building,” he said, gesturing out the window. “Now, this street is flourishing.”  

Diane Chasse, a 68-year-old registered Democrat, said abortion rights are a key concern.

Chasse said she doesn’t always vote with her party – she supported Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in 2020 – and she liked LePage’s focus on the budget and fiscal restraint during his previous two terms. But this year, Chasse said, she plans to support Mills.


“I like some of the stuff he did, but I’m not sure he’s right right now,” she said while loading groceries into her car.

Diane Chasse says her concern about abortion rights is the reason she will support Gov. Janet Mills even though she supports LePage’s focus on the budget and fiscal restraint during his previous two terms. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Chasse said she worries about abortion access in Maine in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling giving individual states the authority to ban the procedure. Mills has vowed to protect access. LePage has said he does not support banning abortions in Maine and would oppose significant restrictions, although as governor he attended anti-abortion rallies and supported efforts to end the constitutional right to abortion that opened the door to such bans.

For Chasse, it’s something that should remain a personal decision between a woman and her doctor. “I’m not a big abortion fan. I’d rather it not get done, but it’s not my decision.”

Other voters agreed, although abortion often isn’t the only issue they are concerned about.

“I’m a big pro-choice person and I know Mills has said she would protect women’s rights,” said Jennifer LaCombe, a 44-year-old overnight pharmacy technician. “I think all health rights should stay out of politics. It should be between a person and their doctor.”

LaCombe said she also believes Mills will do more to support public education. And she said Mills has a better temperament than LePage, who she said “rubs me the wrong way.”


Jennifer Lacombe, shown outside her home, said she will vote for Gov. Janet Mills for a few reasons, one of the main ones being women’s rights. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Cecile Eisenhart, a 72-year-old Democrat, also said she’s motivated to vote for Mills this fall because she will protect a woman’s right to have an abortion. But Eisenhart also said LePage “caused so much damage” during his first two terms.

Some Lewiston voters, on the other hand, are pleased with the Supreme Court ruling. Many are much more concerned about inflation and the high cost of living, especially with cold weather and the winter heating season approaching. And that brash, combative personality of a street fighter is exactly what endears LePage to his supporters here.

“He was tough. He’s pro-life. He’s aggressive. He’s just what Maine needs – someone tough,” Deborah Vachon said.

Vachon said she’s worried about inflation, having spent $78 on two bags of groceries at Hannaford, and LePage will do more to help. “He will do his best to work for Maine, the middle class and low-income people.”

Supporting LePage is purely a matter of dollars and cents for Gerry Albert, a 77-year-old retiree. He said LePage is fiscally conservative and Albert worries that Mills is spending too much money.

“I’m not into politics, but I do know one thing – LePage has got to go back in,” said Albert, after emerging from Simones’ Hot Dog Stand, a landmark eatery frequented by political candidates of all persuasions. “When he got done, we had extra money. What’s she doing now? She’s spending everything. We’re going in the hole. There will be no end to the hole she’s taking us in.”


LePage came into office in 2011 as the state and country were struggling to recover from the Great Recession. When he left, the state had a budget surplus, largely because he cut the state workforce.

Mills, meanwhile, has benefited from millions in federal funding tied to the pandemic, which produced an unprecedented budget surplus, allowing her to replenish the state’s rainy day fund, send $850 checks to most taxpayers and offer millions in grants to local businesses and child care providers.

Some voters see all of that government spending as the driver of inflation.

Dan Bourgoin, a 51-year-old Lewiston native who owns Blais Barber Shop on Russell Street, said the men that come into his shop largely blame the policies of liberal Democrats for inflation. He said they’re not really concerned with social issues, crime or abortion.

“Inflation. Inflation. Inflation,” Bourgoin said, over the hum of hair clippers. “They’re struggling with groceries and heating their homes. You can’t eat social issues.”

While his customers tend to blame liberals for inflation, he said they’re not necessarily flocking to Republicans. “Half are voting for Mills and half are voting for LePage,” he said.


Bourgoin, who is unenrolled, said he is supporting LePage, because of his focus on cutting taxes and helping small businesses, like his. He also likes the fact that LePage is a local and a French Catholic, just like himself. That’s important in Lewiston, Bourgoin said. “There are some people who would never vote for a Republican if he wasn’t that French or that Catholic.”

Old mill buildings poke through the trees in Lewiston on the banks of the Androscoggin River on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Paul Poliquin, a 70-year-old Lewiston resident who has owned Paul’s Clothing and Shoe Store on Lisbon Street for 50 years, said the combination of economic problems – rising prices and a lack of workers – are the big issues here.

“For the average Joe Blow off the streets, it’s inflation – that’s the No. 1 issue,” Poliquin said. “But in here, it’s jobs. How do we get help?”

He said some of his larger commercial clients say that out of every 40 or so people who are offered a job, only four or five show up. It’s gotten so bad, he said, that one day a trucking foreman was recruited to a competing trucking company while shopping inside his store.

“The No. 1 topic of everyone coming through this store – carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers, all the trades – is they can’t get help,” he said.

Poliquin, who is unenrolled and served on the City Council decades ago, said he is a distant cousin of Republican congressional candidate Bruce Poliquin. He would not divulge whom he’s backing in the governor’s race.


Amid all of the voters with strong feelings for and against the candidates, there are still those who have yet to take sides.

Thom Bernier, a 44-year-old business owner, said he’s looking for “a small business-friendly governor who is going to move us past COVID,” although he doesn’t have any criticism for the way Mills handled the pandemic. He also supports the elimination of the income tax, a key piece of LePage’s reelection campaign.

“Right now, I would have to go with LePage,” said Bernier, who is unenrolled. But he still wasn’t ready to commit.

“I’m just not hearing some fresh ideas,” he said. “I want to hear new ideas.”

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