What the first statewide poll tells us about Maine’s primary elections

Good morning from Augusta. There were many lessons in the first public ranked-choice voting poll of the Maine primaries, which we published on Sunday. But while there are clear front-runners in the gubernatorial fields, there is room and time for the races to move.

The headline was that Republican businessman Shawn Moody and Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, are the leaders in the gubernatorial primaries and it isn’t particularly close. The Democratic 2nd Congressional District primary looks to be a barn-burner between conservationist Lucas St. Clair and Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden.

But there are other, smaller stories buried in the data. Here are some of them.

No Republican is in awful shape, though a high unfavorability rating is worrying for one. Moody got 34 percent of first-round votes in a survey of likely Republican gubernatorial primary voters, former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew got 19 percent, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason got 15 percent and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette got 10 percent.

Moody’s favorability rating was a solid 46 percent, compared to 10 percent finding him unfavorable. He would be hard to beat at that level. But about 70 percent of Republicans had a neutral opinion or no opinion about Mason and Fredette. Mason may rise as people get to know him, with 22 percent already seeing him favorably to 8 percent unfavorably.

Mayhew may have a low ceiling. She was the only Republican who was underwater with her party’s voters, with 32 percent seeing her unfavorably to 30 percent favorably (though that difference is within a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points).

Fredette is a wild card: While he’s in last place in the first round and he was favored by 17 percent, he registered a more votes than any other candidate in the second round and seems to be hanging around.

A group of Democrats is struggling to break out. Mills, with 32 percent of first-round votes, is likely the best-known gubernatorial candidate in either party. She was seen favorably by 51 percent of likely Democratic voters against 15 percent seeing her unfavorably. Former Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, the runner-up in the survey at 16 percent of first-round votes, was also well-liked at 40 percent favorable to 11 percent unfavorable.

Three Democrats in the middle of the seven-way field are struggling to break out: State Sen. Mark Dion, attorney Adam Cote and lobbyist Betsy Sweet were at 10 percent, 9 percent and 5 percent in the first round (the credibility interval is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points).

Of those candidates, Cote had left the least impression on voters, with three-quarters of Democrats having no opinion or a neutral opinion of him. But this poll was largely done before Cote, the money leader in the race, went up with TV ads last week, so it could change quickly.

It’s also worth noting that this is early, and primary polling has been bad in Maine. Now that you’ve read all about the poll, let us warn you: There are about five weeks left until the June 12 primaries and we all will be feeling our way around in Maine’s pioneering ranked-choice voting system.

At this time in 2010, few were thinking that Gov. Paul LePage would win the Republican primary and he was lagging well behind in polls conducted toward May’s end. He won a massive plurality. So while this poll has lots of valuable information, be cautious when interpreting it.

Janet Mills will not defend LePage in Medicaid expansion lawsuit

Maine’s attorney general is allowing LePage to hire an outside lawyer to defend him in a high-stakes Medicaid expansion lawsuit. Mills’ office notified LePage’s staff attorney recently that the governor can hire a private attorney, Patrick Strawbridge, to defend the Department of Health and Human Services in a lawsuit against the governor for his refusal to begin implementation of Medicaid expansion, according to the Portland Press Herald.

The suit, led by Maine Equal Justice Partners, was brought on behalf of the 70,000 or more people who could be newly eligible for Medicaid in July, under the provisions of a citizen-initiated referendum supported by 59 percent of voters in 2017. This is not the first time Mills has declined to represent LePage in court on the grounds that his legal position is illegal or his case unwinnable.

Max Linn is back in court today

The Republican U.S. Senate hopeful is taking his fight for ballot access to Maine’s high court. Oral arguments are expected this morning before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in an appeal brought by Max Linn of Bar Harbor, who is arguing against an earlier ruling that he did not collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the Republican primary ballot in the race for a U.S. Senate seat currently held by independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Last week, Linn appealed a ruling by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, which was affirmed by a superior court judge, that essentially booted him out of the election. Today’s arguments are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at the Capitol Judicial Center in  Augusta. Watch bangordailynews.com for updates or listen to the arguments online by clicking here.

Reading list

  • Ranked-choice voting is headed back to court. The Maine Republican Party on Friday filed a lawsuit in federal court in Bangor to challenge the election system endorsed by voters in 2016. Republicans argue that the system violates their rights of free assembly under the First Amendment. The party’s attorney asks the federal court system for an expedited ruling that would allow Republicans to elect their gubernatorial candidate by plurality in the June 12 primary. Democrats criticized the move and proponents of ranked-choice voting accused Republicans of trying to confuse voters.
  • LePage rallied Republican state convention attendees to work against a “blue wave.” In what’s likely one of his last major political speeches as governor, LePage blasted Democrats on Saturday and urged convention goers to support whichever of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates wins the nomination. Other Republican candidates gave convention speeches, with King joining Democrats and big government as the main targets for scorn. A common theme among speakers was the need for Republicans to elevate their ground game to stop the wave of Democratic election victories that has followed President Donald Trump’s election and to reverse the trend that the party controlling the White House suffers major losses in the midterm elections.
  • Family and friends honor slain deputy in Skowhegan. They and more than 150 law enforcement officers from Maine and beyond attended Cpl. Eugene Cole’s wake Sunday at the Skowhegan Armory, where his closed casket was displayed alongside his patrol vehicle. Cole was killed April 25 in Norridgewock while working an early morning shift. Cole’s funeral is today at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, where thousands are expected to attend.
  • Mainers are rallying around a family after a sign on their halal meat market was shot. Kathryn Piper and Hussam Al-Rawi, who recently moved to Maine from the Middle East with their two young children, said they found the sign outside their Troy business peppered with eight holes police say probably resulted from buckshot fired from a shotgun. However, they have been flooded with cards, calls and visits from fellow community members ever since.

‘A hero’s heart’

We join thousands of his fellow law enforcement officers today in honoring slain Cole whose memorial service will take place today in Bangor.

Instead of a soundtrack, we’ll share these words from the Rev. Kate Braestrup, chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. Her husband, state trooper Drew Griffith, died in the line of duty in 1996. Braestrup has had to lead many memorial services for fallen officers, and she offers far wiser counsel than we could on why it takes a “hero’s heart” to work in law enforcement.

“Service isn’t safe, and the more vital the service is, the more we put at risk. A law enforcement officer routinely puts everything he’s got, everything he is, in danger — body, mind and life. And he does this for love. That’s not what makes police work happy, but it is what makes police work … holy.”

Thank you, Rev. Braestrup. Thank you, Cpl. Cole.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.