After four years under a Democratic trifecta, Maine Republicans are seeking a return to power. With a national red wave seemingly likely, state Republicans see a real opportunity to regain a foothold in this reliably but not overwhelmingly Democratic state, whether it be via the Governorship or the Legislature.
Maine Democrats, on the other hand, believe local issues and incumbency will carry more weight than the national environment, especially in a state known for its willingness to split tickets. The Governor’s Race between incumbent Democratic Governor Janet Mills and former Republican Governor Paul LePage (which we currently rate as a Tossup), will likely impact downballot legislative races in a significant way.
One thing about Maine which we won’t have to worry about are drastically reconfigured districts due to decennial redistricting. A 2/3 majority in the legislature is required to have full control of redistricting, so both parties settled on a (mostly) least-change map. You can view an interactive version of the new Senate map here.
Maine’s State House, which probably has way too many members for the size of its state, will be covered in a future article. This article will be featuring the competitive seats in the State Senate, where Democrats are favored to retain a narrow majority. Our preliminary rating for Maine’s State Senate is Leans Democratic.
Likely Seats: Interesting Races, but Clear Favorites in All
The seats we currently have rated as Likely Democratic all voted for President Biden by large margins and are unlikely to become very competitive anytime soon. However, there exist a few seats that are quite interesting and worth attention.
An early June special election will take place in SD-7 due to the resignation of State Senator Louis Luchini (D). Both parties have strong recruits, with the Democrats fielding State Representative Nicole Grohoski and Republicans fielding former State Senator Brian Langley. The seat has an extremely Democratic topline at Biden+23, but local issues, especially with regards to whaling, lobstering, and offshore wind, will also play a large role. The special election in June will only complicate matters and add uncertainty, meaning this seat is not completely off the board, at least until we have the results from the special election.
The 30th Senatorial District is one of the most interesting districts in the state. At first glance, a Biden+25 district should not be competitive. But as a demonstration of residual Republican down-ballot strength, Governor Mills only won the district by four points in 2018 and Democrat Stacy Brenner was only elected by 8 points in 2020. With a strong candidate, like Former Senator Amy Volk, Republicans could’ve made this race competitive. Instead, they’re left with retired U.S. Marine colonel Timothy Thorsen, who just lost a slightly redder House special election by 20 points. Unless Thorsen can show improvement as a candidate, Democrats should hold this seat relatively comfortably.
The two Likely Republican seats both warrant their own reasons for this rating. At Trump +0.4, SD-15 is competitive on paper, but Senator Matthew Pouliot (R) won a similar seat by almost 15 points in 2020, and he’s running for reelection. We also expect LePage to comfortably carry the 33rd, a Trump +6 seat, thus boosting State Representative Matthew Harrington (R) in his race against Sanford School Committee Chair Kendra Williams (D).
Leaning Seats: Senate President Leads Democratic Firewall
The seats in the leans category all currently favor Democrats. Leans Democratic means we believe Democrats have a clear advantage, but that Republicans also have a good chance of pulling an upset and the race is competitive. There are four seats in this category.
- SD-1: The northernmost district in the state is held by State Senate President Troy Jackson. Jackson was able to win an easy reelection in 2020 even as Trump carried his district by double-digits. However, the national environment, a credible Republican recruit in State Representative Susan Bernard, and rightward trends in the district mean Jackson is in his closest race yet. He’ll start out favored thanks to his popular personal brand, but if the environment gets to Ed Durr levels of bad for Democrats in the state, he may see himself locked in a tough reelection fight.
- SD-11: At Biden+5, the 11th district is one of the more competitive districts on the map. It’s ever-so-slightly more Democratic down-ballot, with Governor Mills winning the district by nine points and Democrat Glenn Curry winning his first Senate term by 8% in 2020. Curry now faces a credible Republican challenger in State Representative MaryAnne Kinney. The incumbency factor is still worth quite a bit in Maine, and we see that boosting Curry and giving him a modest advantage in his reelection bid.
- SD-14: After getting elected by a strong 25-point margin in a 2021 special election, Democratic Senator Craig Hickman finds himself in a decent position to start off his reelection bid. Always an electoral powerhouse, he was able to hold down his old Biden+8 State House seat with more than 63% of the vote in each of his reelection runs. The special election result only reinforces his strength as a candidate, and we see him as favored to start off the election cycle. His Republican opponent, state Representative Jeffery Hanley, is a credible recruit but does not possess a similarly impressive electoral record. The district only voted for President Biden by two points and Governor Mills by three points, so Hanley does have a path to winning if the environment is able to overcome individual candidate quality.
- SD-32: The 32nd district is redder than the topline of Biden +13 would suggest, with Governor Mills only carrying the district by three points in 2018. The Democratic candidate in this race is former State Representative Henry Ingwersen, while Republicans are running pastor and former police officer David Corbett. Ingwersen should be modestly favored, but if Mills is having a bad night and ends up losing this district, things could get complicated.
Tossups: Environment and Candidate Quality are Key
- SD-8: The 8th district is an extremely competitive Biden+3/Mills +8 seat located entirely within Penobscot County. With incumbent Democratic Senator James Dill is term-limited, a field of candidates are now running to replace the four-term incumbent. For the Democrats, the two candidates running are Abe Furth, a co-owner of Orono Brewing Company, and Mike Tipping, a progressive advocate and writer. On the Republican side, the two candidates who have filed for the seat are U.S. Army veteran Eric Rojo and first-time candidate Grace Ann Tibbetts. Candidate quality will undoubtedly be important in this closely divided district, and contested primaries on both sides add uncertainty to the final result, leaving no party with a discernable advantage.
- SD-13: The 13th district is an open seat that almost completely resembles Lincoln County. Democrats find themselves in a divided primary between attorney David Levesque and school counselor Cameron Reny, while Republicans have their candidate in former State Representative Abden Simmons. The district voted for Biden by 8 points, but it is just slightly more Republican down the ballot, voting for Mills by only 5%. The race starts off as a Tossup.
- SD-16: Another open seat that is poised to be one of the closest in this cycle. Democrats have left the field open for former Waterville and Winslow Fire Chief David LaFountain in this Biden+6/Mills+9 district. In contrast, there’s quite the crowded primary on the Republican side, with State Representative Michael Perkins having the strongest credentials in the three-person field. Mills and LePage will probably fight it out very close in this district, and we don’t see the results downballot being much different.
- SD-20: The 20th seems to be the most favorable district for Republicans out of the tossup bunch, voting for Biden by just 3.4% in 2020 after Mills lost this seat by 2.3% in 2018. Former State Senator and 2018 US Senatorial Nominee Eric Brakey (R) is back to reclaim his old seat, while former State Representative Bettyann Sheats (D) is hoping to win a job in the upper chamber. On paper, it may seem like Brakey has an advantage, but it’s early and we don’t know how the overall campaign will develop. For now, we’re keeping this seat in the Tossup column.
- SD-26: An extremely fascinating contest is taking place in the 26th district. Republicans have found a familiar name in former Senator Gary Plummer (R), and he faces former town councilor Timothy Nangle (D) in the general election. Biden won the district by 12 points, but Governor Mills only carried the district by 57 votes in 2018. With 2022 looking like a redder year, there’s a good chance Mills could end up losing the district to LePage, thus boosting Republicans in this district. Add on the fact that Plummer is a credible candidate, and we’re giving Republicans fair odds of winning this double-digit Biden seat.
A Final Note
Keep in mind that these ratings are preliminary and will definitely change as we near election day. The individual campaigns, the Governor’s race, and the national environment will all significantly impact these downballot results, perhaps in ways that we cannot adequately forecast right now. But if the elections were held today, we would expect Democrats to win the chamber, albeit perhaps by a narrow margin.