PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Turnout was low Tuesday during a Maine primary election that served as a tune-up before the November general election, which will have many more voters and higher stakes.
Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said there was no contested statewide race to bring out voters.
“Because the top-of-the-ticket races are already decided, we’re not seeing the same voter turnout that we normally see,” she said.
But there was a contest in the 2nd Congressional District, where a former Republican congressman seeking to return to his old seat held off a challenge from a fellow party member. Former Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Liz Caruso both wanted to challenge Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in a closely watched congressional race, and Poliquin won the chance to do so.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills faces former Republican Gov. Paul LePage — both ran unopposed in their primaries. Likewise, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and her opponent, Republican Ed Thelander, face no competitors in their parties.
Elsewhere, a group funded by Democratic megadonor George Soros is funneling $300,000 into a district attorney race.
Poliquin represented Maine’s 2nd Congressional District from 2015 to 2019 until losing to the current seat holder, Golden. Golden’s victory over Poliquin was the first congressional election decided by ranked-choice voting in U.S. history.
This year, Poliquin is hoping to win a rematch over Golden in one of the most closely watched races of the 2022 midterm elections. But first, staved off a challenge from Caruso, the first selectman of the tiny town of Caratunk, in Tuesday’s primary.
Poliquin is a businessman who also served as Maine’s state treasurer for two years before becoming a congressman. He said he decided to run again because of a Washington agenda he described as “big government socialism” and runaway inflation.
“I came out again from semiretirement because our country and our state are in deep trouble,” he said.
Caruso, in addition to being the top official in a town of about 80, is a former engineer and current Maine guide who said she is running for Congress to return government to the people.
“Rural Mainers aren’t looking for the candidate that is the wealthiest. They are looking for the person that will represent them the best,” Caruso said.
The 2nd District is a vast, largely rural district that is politically mixed, frequently competitive and includes much of the state’s northern and western area. The largest city in the district is Lewiston, which is 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Portland and is the largest city in inland Maine with about 37,000 residents. The general election ballot will also include Tiffany Bond, an independent candidate.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and her challenger, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, were both unopposed in their respective primaries, and looking ahead to the November election.
Mills has touted her handling of the state budget and pandemic for allowing the state to recover — and to return the bulk of a $1.2 billion surplus to taxpayers in the form of $850 inflationary relief checks.
LePage, who’s seeking a third term, has criticized what he described as Mills’ heavy-handed executive decrees during the COVID-19 pandemic and one-time budget “gimmicks.”
It’s viewed as a tight race with a third candidate who’s making his first bid for elected office. Down East physician Sam Hunkler is an independent who has a self-imposed spending cap of $5,000.
The district attorney race in Cumberland County was jolted by outside cash tied to Democratic billionaire donor George Soros.
A Soros-backed super PAC provided $300,000 to a political action committee that’s running attack ads against incumbent Jonathan Sahrbeck on behalf of Jacqueline Sartoris. Both are running as Democrats, but Sartoris said she’s the only life “lifelong Democrat” in the race. Sahrbeck, who previously ran as independent, called the spending “outrageous.”
Together the candidates also raised about $70,000 for the race. That, too, is a big sum for a prosecutor race in Maine.
Sartoris emerged as the victor on Tuesday.