U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe easily outpaced her two opponents on Election Day, racking up 73 percent of the vote and securing a third term.
According to unofficial results compiled by the Bangor Daily News, the Republican incumbent pulled away from Democrat Jean Hay Bright of Dixmont, who had 21 percent of the vote. Independent William Slavick of Portland was running third with 6 percent.
“What your vote of confidence tells me is, you want a voice in Washington as resolute and independent and reasonable-minded as all of you are as Mainers,” Snowe said in a statement, which she read to supporters at her election night headquarters in Portland shortly after Hay Bright conceded the race at 11:30 p.m.
Hay Bright had made Snowe’s support for the increasingly unpopular Iraq war the centerpiece of her campaigns and questioned Snowe’s reputation as a moderate.
As the returns suggested the Democrat was unable to crack the senior senator’s broad base of support, Hay Bright conceded and credited her campaign with moving Snowe back to the center on issues like Iraq and the minimum wage in the late evening.
“I’m planning on holding her feet to the fire on that,” Hay Bright said.
Since the race’s outset, Snowe has been considered a heavy favorite in the race against her two relatively unknown challengers: Hay Bright an author and organic farmer, and Slavick, a retired college professor.
Even amid growing discontent with the Iraq war and Republican controlled Congress, campaign watchers never viewed Snowe as in danger of losing the seat she has held since 1995. Snowe’s approval ratings in Maine consistently hover around 72 percent, making her one of the most popular senators in the nation.
Despite her popularity, Snowe on Tuesday didn’t appear likely to break the Election Day record of former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell, who trounced his Republican challenger Jasper Wyman in 1988 with 81 percent of the vote.
Among many voters outside Bangor area polls, voting for Snowe – who extended her streak to 14 election victories – almost seemed like a forgone conclusion.
“Oh,” said Jason Bouchard, a 24-year-old truck driver from Hampden, almost surprised a reporter would ask about the senate race. “I feel that she’s done a good job since she’s been there, so why change?”
Based on exit polling, wire services called the race shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m.
The Associated Press exit poll was conducted by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International. It surveyed 550 voters around Maine as they left 15 randomly selected precincts Tuesday. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 6 percentage points for the overall sample, larger for subgroups.
The Maine exit poll gave Snowe a commanding edge over Hay Bright in both the 1st Congressional District, which includes southern Maine, and the 2nd Congressional District, which Snowe represented in the U.S. House for 16 years.
Snowe virtually split the Democratic vote with Hay Bright and locked up Republicans while outpolling Hay Bright among independents by about 2-to-1.
Hay Bright did have her supporters at Bangor area polls however.
Among them was Linda Nickerson, a 55-year-old Bangor Democrat. She said Hay Bright’s opposition to the Iraq war – and a desire to end GOP control of Congress – was her foremost reason for voting for the Democrat.
“I think we need change. We need a big change all over,” Nickerson, said while leaving the polls Tuesday afternoon. “It would be good for all of us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.