Overall, Maine had a sleepy primary season.

While there were slightly more primaries than usual, many of them flew under the radar, unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t directly involved. In the 1st Congressional District, for instance, Republicans actually had a primary to decide who would be the challenger to Rep. Chellie Pingree.

That was unusual; there hasn’t been a Republican primary in the first district since 2016, when Mark Holbrook faced Andre Smith. It also didn’t matter; there wasn’t much difference between the two candidates, and no Republican is going to have much of a chance in the first district. That probably won’t change even if the district opens up again.

This primary happened because both men wanted to run, not because there were many differences between them.

Indeed, primaries generally happen for one of these three reasons: ambition, ideological differences or personal differences. In Maine this year, the primaries at the federal level were mainly “ambition” primaries, where both candidates wanted to run. In the 2nd District, there was a vague attempt by Mike Soboleski to cast himself as the true conservative against Austin Theriault, but in fact there weren’t many real ideological differences between them. They disagreed on a few votes here and there, but both supported Trump and are fairly typical mainstream conservative Republicans. With Trump endorsing Theriault, it was hard for Soboleski’s courtship of the grassroots to gain much traction.

In the end, it came down to the practicalities of which candidate was better positioned to take on incumbent Rep. Jared Golden; it wasn’t much surprise, then, that it remained a relatively sleepy affair. Indeed, the surprise there was that other more-established politicians didn’t seek the nomination: Golden was widely viewed as vulnerable, and both Theriault and Soboleski are first-term state representatives.


For all that Golden might be theoretically vulnerable, though, he’s becoming less so each election cycle, and there were no other Republicans ready, eager and willing to take him on. Ambition primaries like this usually come down to who runs the better race; there’s no surprise that the better-funded, better-known and better-organized Theriault won.

There were a few ambition primaries in the Maine House, too, especially in the Portland area, where the primary is the real election.

Winning that usually assures you of securing the post for the next eight years, so it’s no surprise that when these seats open up there’s a big scramble. This year, several familiar names were either trying to stay in office or return to it. In one district, Ben Chipman and Rachel Talbot-Ross were trying to switch places, going from the House to the Senate and vice versa — at least until Chipman inexplicably and irresponsibly dropped out the day before the election.

This work-around of Maine’s term limits law ought to be eliminated. In Chipman’s case, he would have faced his predecessor, Herb Adams, as well as Portland school board member Yusuf Yusuf. In another district, one that covers Cape Elizabeth and part of Portland, two former legislators, Cynthia Dill and Kimberly Monaghan, were opposed by Michelle Boyer. In both of these primaries, there weren’t huge political differences or personal enmity between the candidates; they all simply wanted to serve in the Legislature. In both cases, the newcomers won. It serves as a stark reminder to all that voters don’t always appreciate retreads.

Up in Waterville, it was a different story — there was a clear ideological divide at stake.

Incumbent Democrat Bruce White was one of the only Democrats in the Legislature to oppose expanding abortion rights, and he was challenged by city Councilor Cassie Julia. These types of ideological primaries are exceedingly rare in Maine, and in recent years they’ve been more common amongst Republicans. Moreover, although White was out of step with his party on this issue, he was running for his last term; Julia could simply have waited to run for the seat when it was open. Instead, she ran this year, and won handily.

It will be interesting to see whether this foreshadows more ideological primaries in the years to come, or if it was simply a unique case based around the issue of abortion access.

Those are the few key takeaways from this year: voters don’t like retreads, the Democratic Party is moving to the left, the better-organized candidate usually wins. While these points might be important in years to come, with so few primaries this year, they are better viewed as aberrations than trends.


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