Shortly before midnight Tuesday, Democratic Gov. John E. Baldacci declared victory in his bid for a second term as governor.
“I’m feeling good,” Baldacci said during his victory celebration. “The campaign’s over, and now it’s time to get back to work. I’m grateful for the level of family support I’ve had and the great work of my campaign staff. Now it’s time to pull the state together and get ready for the next legislative session and continue to work on property tax relief.”
This year’s gubernatorial election featured the largest number of candidates on the ballot in Maine’s 186-year voting history.
Baldacci’s effort to win re-election attracted challenges from Republican nominee Chandler Woodcock, Green Independent Party hopeful Pat LaMarche, independent bidder Barbara Merrill, and another independent, Phillip Morris NaPier.
The governor outpaced Woodcock, his closest rival, by about 10 percentage points throughout the evening. With 74 percent of 627 precincts reporting, Baldacci had picked up 39 percent of the vote with Woodcock trailing with 29 percent, according to unofficial tabulations by the Bangor Daily News.
Woodcock conceded at 11:38 p.m., and Baldacci claimed victory five minutes later.
Woodcock told supporters he had conceded to Baldacci, but not to the goals of lower taxes, spending reform and a stronger state economy.
“The toughest part of the campaign is not winning,” Woodcock said. “I’m a competitive person, but the governor earned it, and I congratulate him.”
Merrill conceded the race to the governor at 11:18 p.m.
“What can I say? The governor was an awesome campaigner,” Merrill said. “But I think we did pretty darn well, and it was the first time an independent had qualified for public funding.”
The campaign for governor was historic because it was the first year in which multiple candidates ran publicly funded efforts under the Maine Clean Elections Act. Woodcock, LaMarche and Merrill all were expected to close in on the $1.2 million maximum they could receive under state law while Baldacci ran a million-dollar-plus privately funded campaign. NaPier also ran a privately funded campaign that he expected would cost just under $20.
“You could call it low-budget,” he said during a recent debate.
Finally, Baldacci was poised to set a new record for an incumbent Maine governor winning with the smallest percentage of the vote. Baldacci, who was elected in a three-way race in 2002 with 47 percent of the vote, still fared better than Gov. Angus King, who won in his first race with only 35 percent of the vote – the lowest margin of victory in the state’s history. The small numbers this year are attributable in part to the large slate of five candidates and a voter turnout that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap estimated at between 45 and 55 percent – average for turnouts in nonpresidential-year elections.
According to the Guide to U.S. Elections, Maine has had four governors who have won re-election with less than 50 percent of the vote: Democratic Gov. John Hubbard with 44.4 percent in 1852; Republican Gov. Seldon Connor with 44.8 percent of the vote in 1878; Republican Gov. Anson Morrill with 46.6 percent of the vote in 1855; and Democratic Gov. John Dana with 48.4 percent of the vote in 1848.
Tuesday’s voting wrapped up a gubernatorial campaign that got off to a slow start and never actually reached widespread fever pitch, according to some political pundits. Party primaries are an opportunity for fall ballot candidates to connect with voters by defining their personalities and highlighting their political agendas. But even before the general election campaign began, weakness was apparent in the efforts of the two major party candidates, prompting political scientists such as Jim Melcher of the University of Maine at Farmington to remark on the level of “soft support” for both Woodcock and the governor.
Coming out of Congress, Baldacci was so influential during his first bid for governor in 2002 that Maine Democratic Party bosses convinced popular state Senate Majority Leader Chellie Pingree not to oppose him in a gubernatorial primary. This year, Baldacci was dogged by the state’s sluggish economic performance and a failure to launch bold social initiatives favored by some of his party’s more progressive elements.
He was confronted with a challenge from Christopher Miller, a virtual unknown who received the support of nearly 25 percent of all Maine Democrats in the June primary. Miller’s surprising totals were even more impressive in large portions of what was once Baldacci’s congressional district: Washington County, 45 percent; Somerset County, 34 percent; and in the governor’s home county of Penobscot, 24 percent. Miller ultimately threw his support behind LaMarche.
Meanwhile, Woodcock adopted a tax-cutting and social issues strategy to carve out a victory in a three-way primary against two moderate GOP opponents. The plan endeared him to the party’s conservative wing, in general, and members of the so-called religious right in particular. Placing an emphasis on his anti-gay rights and anti-abortion positions at the GOP state convention, Woodcock also described himself as a “lay preacher” and later became embroiled in a debate about whether biblical creationism should be taught in the schools.
Moderates stayed home during the primary in which only about 20 percent of Maine’s GOP voters cast ballots to give Woodcock 39 percent of the vote. Although Woodcock’s primary opponents – state Sen. Peter Mills and former U.S. Rep. David Emery – ultimately united behind Woodcock, the GOP nominee frequently struggled throughout the campaign to solidify his goal of large-scale Republican support.
In making her Green Independent bid, LaMarche had to consider not only her short-term goals, but those of her party as well. As the party’s standard-bearer, LaMarche needed to receive 5 percent of all votes cast Tuesday in order for the Greens to maintain official party ballot status in the state. Her 7 percent showing in 1998 gave her and the party reason to believe that her party’s standing was safe.
MaryEllen FitzGerald of the marketing firm Critical Insights said LaMarche likely would do better than 7 percent in 2006 as the result of the experience she received while running as the Greens’ national vice presidential candidate in 2004. Still, even her most favorable polls this year could not place her in the teens, prompting FitzGerald to conclude that 9 or 10 percent might be “as good as it gets” for LaMarche.
Merrill’s campaign exploded just after the reconvening of this year’s legislative session when she became one of three Democratic state representatives to drop out of the party. Her retreat led to Democrats holding a bare 74-73 edge over Republicans, with one Green party member and three independents rounding out the lawmakers in the House.
Merrill quickly became the focus of media attention as a maverick who was no longer willing to put up with “partisan games” in state government. She crafted her campaign in much the same fashion, casting herself as the logical choice for a governor facing entrenched political partisans.
While Phillip Morris NaPier’s opponents competed to see who would be in the driver’s seat in the gubernatorial race, he seemed content simply to be along for the ride. The obscure retired Internal Revenue Service employee barely got on the radar screen four years ago when he ran as a write-in candidate. This time around, he collected enough signatures to get on the ballot, but that wasn’t enough for many gubernatorial event organizers who barred him from participating in numerous forums and debates as a “nonviable” candidate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.