The results of last night’s Republican primary were apparent as soon as the first returns started coming in — LePage was up from the start and never slipped into second place. He won Bangor, Lewiston-Auburn and Augusta, which was somewhat surprising but not wholly, but it was when he won Portland that everyone — including Peter Mills, who many considered a strong contender in the GOP race — agreed that LePage had the nomination locked up.
The national media doesn’t seem to have picked up the scent yet, but Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, placed the outcome squarely on the shoulders of the tea party.
“What I had kinda been saying to people all along is that what was going to be key on the Republican side, in my view, was how big the tea party movement in Maine was going to be,” Brewer told me Wednesday. “I think what we saw yesterday in Maine was the tea party movement was a relatively good size.”
He linked, also, the overwhelming passage of Question 1 to LePage’s victory.
LePage has experience competing in a liberal arena. Waterville, where LePage has served as mayor since 2003, is a heavily Democratic town — all but one councilmen is a Democrat. According to Sandy Maisel, a professor in the Government Department at Colby College in Waterville, LePage’s victories in Waterville and last night are largely due to one factor:
“He’s a very personable guy, and Waterville’s a small town — lot’s of people know him,” Maisel said.
Others back Maisel up on this. One TV commentator last night — I wasn’t paying attention who — remarked — perhaps jokingly — that LePage’s victory was because he invested in campaign buttons, rather than stickers. A few people I’ve talked to today have said they were impressed by LePage’s perhaps less traditional but also less expensive advertising form of choice: radio.
But, Maisel said, LePage hasn’t shown himself to be a prolific fundraiser. My boss at the Kennebec Journal, Tony Ronzio, fired off a tweet this morning that reflected the huge money disparity in the race: “By my hasty count, Bruce Poliquin spent $168 for every vote he received last night. Otten $145. Lepage? $3.50.” Poliquin and Otten were both largely self-financed, but nonetheless LePage was still near the bottom of the barrel as far as financing goes.
Maisel and Brewer both said independent candidate Eliot Cutler may have a strong chance to shine in November.
“He has clearly got an impressive resume, he has by all accounts got plenty of resources to spend on this race, he has already got a fair amount of support out there,” Brewer said.
Maisel said Cutler might have more potential to steal votes from LePage than Democratic nominee Elizabeth Mitchell, saying, “It seems to me that the Mills, Abbott, Otten people have to find a place to go.”
LePage, the Morning Sentinel reports, is taking a breather today while he and everyone else tries to figure out what just happened, and what’s going to happen next.