The Maine Senate takes a vote Friday. Six of the 35 seats in the Maine Senate and another 33 of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives will be up for grabs in the state Legislature this fall, opening up the possibility of a shift in power in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

One out of every five Maine lawmakers is walking away from the Legislature this year, whether because of term limits, family demands or other reasons.

That means one-fifth of the seats in the state Legislature will not have an incumbent who can rely on experience, constituent service and name recognition to defend their posts in the fall elections – creating plenty of opportunities for each political party to flip seats and change the balance of power.

The math appears to favor Republicans. Twenty-two of the 39 open seats are being vacated by Democrats, who have dominated the State House for nearly six years.

But the mathematical advantage may not add up to easy gains for the minority party. Besides the strength of the candidates themselves, factors from local demographics to presidential politics also will play a role.

While all 186 seats in the state Senate and House of Representatives are up for grabs in November, incumbents usually have a built-in advantage given their name recognition and ongoing work in the district. Open seats typically create the best opportunity to flip a district from one party to another.

Of the 39 open seats on the ballot across the state this fall, six are in the Senate and 33 are in the House of Representatives. Twenty-two of those seats are currently held by Democrats.

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The numbers especially point to an advantage for Republicans as they try to gain seats in the House. Democrats in that chamber have had an 11-seat advantage and will now be defending 19 open seats.

But a closer look reveals that many of those open seats are in Democratic strongholds in southern Maine, such as Portland, Saco, Biddeford and Gorham. Flipping those seats would be a tall order for Republicans.

Two seats are open in Lewiston, which is considered a swing district and bellwether for statewide races but has been trending toward the Democrats in recent years.

Neither party has a mathematical edge in the Senate races. Democrats have enjoyed a nine-seat advantage in the Senate, and both parties will be defending three open seats this year.

The battle for control of the Legislature this year takes place in the shadow of a presidential election, which usually brings more voters to the polls. The presidential election between President Biden, a Democrat, and former President Donald Trump, the expected Republican nominee, will be a rematch of 2020, when Biden won the state and Democrats retained their majority in the Maine Legislature.

The effectiveness of each party to motivate supporters to turn out this fall could have an impact on down-ballot races and control of the state Legislature.

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Polling conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center in February ahead of the presidential primaries showed that Trump supporters were much more enthusiastic about their candidate than Biden supporters. If that dynamic still exists in November, it could be a built-in advantage for Maine Republicans, especially in the more rural 2nd Congressional District.

Fifty-three percent of respondents said they would be enthusiastic to have Trump as the Republican nominee, though national polling suggests any criminal conviction could erode that support. (Trump is currently on trial in New York, where he is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments allegedly made to a porn actor during the 2016 campaign.)

Only 32% of respondents said they would be enthusiastic about Biden, who is facing criticism for his support of Israel in its military campaign in Gaza.

“Turnout is always higher in presidential years than in nonpresidential years, even in a traditionally high turnout state like Maine,” said Mark Brewer, chair of political science at the University of Maine in Orono.

“I don’t see anything different about 2024,” Brewer added. “Right now, a fairly large percentage of voters are expressing dislike of their presidential choices and/or lack of interest in the race, but this will change as we get closer to Election Day and voters realize the stakes in this election.”

Here are a few prime pick-up opportunities for each party, based on a Press Herald analysis of voter registrations in each district and the 2020 presidential election results.

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SENATE

Six of the 35 seats in the Senate are open – three held by Republicans, three held by Democrats.

Republicans appear to have a prime pickup opportunity in District 1, the Aroostook County seat held by outgoing Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.

Republicans hold an enrollment advantage in The County, where voters backed Trump in 2020. Sue Bernard, a Republican who lost to Jackson after a spirited campaign in 2022, is running again and this time will face a political newcomer, Democrat Vaughn James McLaughlin.

Democrats, meanwhile, appear to have a pickup opportunity in the District 20 seat held by outgoing Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn. His district voted in 2020 for Biden. And Brakey narrowly won his seat in 2022 after a recount.

Brakey’s 2020 challenger, Democrat Bettyann Sheats, is running again, this time against former Republican Rep. Bruce Bickford. The race also has an unenrolled candidate, Dustin Ward, which could complicate things for Democrats.

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HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

In the lower chamber, 33 of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives are open, including 19 currently held by Democrats and 13 held by Republicans, plus one held by an independent.

Republicans seem to have a shot at picking up at least two of those seats, while others appear to be in Democratic strongholds.

Two battlegrounds with open seats are District 9, currently held by Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, and District 86, held by Rep. Jessica Fay, D-Raymond. Both of those districts backed Trump in 2020, and Republicans appear to have the voter enrollment advantage in each district.

Democrats appear to have a chance in District 83, which has been held by Walter Riseman, I-Harrison. Voters in that district broke toward Biden by fewer than 100 votes in 2020, even though Republicans appear to hold an enrollment advantage.

Two other open seats being vacated by Republicans could be toss-ups.

Biden squeaked out a win by a handful of votes in District 82, currently held by outgoing Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford. Neither party appears to have a strong enrollment advantage in that district.

And District 36, held by outgoing Rep. David Haggan, R-Hampden, went to Trump by a just few dozen votes in 2020, even though Republicans have an enrollment advantage.

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