Campaign signs in the median of Main Street in Lewiston serve as a reminder that it’s close to Election Day. But the mass shootings that took the lives of 18 local people Wednesday put campaigning on hold. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Minutes before the two sides in a campaign over the future of Maine’s electric utilities were about to debate on TV Wednesday night, the first reports of a shooting in Lewiston stopped the event before it began.

Less than two weeks before Election Day, the mass shootings that killed 18 people prompted ballot question activists and candidates seeking public office to pause their campaigns as grief overtakes politics and silences what would otherwise be a raucous run-up to voting.

“Five minutes before the debate started, this just exploded,” said Willy Ritch, who has led the opposition to Question 3, which would create a publicly owned utility, and who was in the WMTW studio in Westbrook. “It changed everyone’s focus and changed, as it should have, the news coverage.”

Most candidates and those pushing for or against ballot measures said their priority is for Mainers to spend time with family and friends and take a break from politics in the wake of the worst mass killing in the state.

“Right now, we’re focused on our community that has been so deeply affected by this tragedy,” Kaitlin LaCasse, campaign manager for Protect Maine Elections, the group supporting a yes vote on Question 2 that would limit campaign spending by foreign governments, said in an email.

Al Cleveland, a campaign manager for Pine Tree Power, the name of the proposed publicly owned utility on the Nov. 7 ballot, said the “primary focus is caring for each other.”


“This is a time to be focusing on one another,” Cleveland said.

Law enforcement’s search for Robert Card, the suspect in the killings, ended Friday night when his body was discovered near a recycling center in Lisbon. But that only ended one phase of the tragedy. Family and friends who lost loved ones, and the community at large, are looking to funerals, remembrances and memorial events that will keep emotions high as people search for a way to reconcile the horrific loss and heal. No one knows how that will affect campaigns.

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, mayoral candidates in Lewiston and Auburn suspended their campaigns. Reached Friday before the news about Card broke and before the shelter-in-place order that locked down many L-A towns was lifted, candidates said they were focusing on how to help their communities.

As Lewiston mayoral candidate Luke D. Jensen said when he paused his campaign, including ads on Facebook, “At this point there’s no playbook for what you do.”

Twenty miles away, candidates for Portland mayor were taking different approaches. Andrew Zarro said he is pausing “in-person campaign activities” this weekend and Dylan Pugh said he will “be out and about once it’s safe.” Justin Costa said he’s suspended campaign activities “for the time being,” while Pious Ali said he’s “suspending all campaign activities.”

Mark Dion said he will “continue moving forward if there are opportunities,” but asking the public to participate in campaign events “doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.”



The silent conclusion to an off-year election that will decide municipal races, eight statewide ballot measures and a special election in Bath to fill a seat in the state House, is a contrast to typical campaign seasons that end with TV, radio and internet ads in furious efforts to get out the vote and push a favored cause across the finish line. Volunteers who had previously knocked on doors, phoned voters and handed out flyers will instead be out of sight.

BJ McCollister of Maine Energy Progress, a political action committee formed by Versant Power and Enmax that opposes Question 3, said it’s pausing TV messaging, field efforts and other activities “as people navigate this tragedy.”

“This is the time we were situated to make our final arguments,” he said.

With no precedent in Maine for a halt in campaigning just days before Election Day, no one can guess what voter turnout may be. Previous off-year elections drew voter participation of 33% in 2017, 17% in 2019 and 37% two years ago, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s office. The higher turnout in 2021 may likely have been because of strong interest in the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission corridor that voters rejected.

In the high-profile presidential election of 2020, when challenger former Vice President Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump, turnout in Maine was 76.2% of the voting age population, according to a report to Congress.


Anna Kellar, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maine, said in-person events are affected by the sudden change in public sentiment.

Kellar suggested politicians may return to COVID-19-era remote venues. For example, a local candidate forum that was scheduled for the Brunswick library Friday night was canceled because the library closed, and a video of candidates answering questions will instead be prepared.

“Obviously, we don’t want to have to use those options rather than in-person,” Kellar said. “However, we have them and people can use those services.”

“It’s a shame because a lot of work goes into these forums,” Kellar said. “People want to be around their families. A lot of people’s energy is going into taking care of each other.”


Although campaigning was paused, politics still managed to seep into the news cycle. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden’s announcement Thursday that he would reverse his position on an assault weapons ban after the rampage in Lewiston stirred national attention. A conservative Democrat, Golden has opposed bans in previous sessions of Congress.


Republican congressional hopeful Austin Theriault fired back, posting on X, “It’s unfortunate and frustrating that at this time of tragedy, Jared Golden and Joe Biden would try to score political points by attacking the 2nd Amendment.”

Joshua James Pietrowicz, a candidate for mayor of Lewiston, criticized Vice President Kamala Harris for calling for universal background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.

“It’s not the time to get political. It’s a time to grieve,” he said.

Staff Writer Grace Benninghoff contributed to this report.

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