The Surprises In Maine's Primary Election Results, And What They Portend For November

Jun 14, 2018

Now that the June primary is over - sort of - we turn to Maine Public's two political correspondents, Steve Mistler and Mal Leary, for some analysis of the results.  They spoke with Maine Calling host Jennifer Rooks earlier about some of Tuesday night's surprises - including, says Mistler, the Republican gubernatorial primary in which Shawn Moody got the nomination.

MISTLER: Yeah, I mean that was, I think, a shock to just about anybody, including, perhaps, Moody's campaign, which expected the Republican primary to at least get to the tabulation - the ranked-choice voting tabulation - at least have a second round. I thought it would get that far but that didn't happen. Moody jumped out to an early lead in the early returns and just really never looked back. And, you know, his closest challenger was Garrett Mason, who I thought would do a lot better. He was considered the dark horse in that primary field. I think everybody felt like he had a lot of momentum. But it just didn't translate into the numbers last night. And Moody was, you know, doing what nobody thought was going to happen, which was making a victory speech.

ROOKS:  Why do you think - how did he do it?

MISTLER:  I don't know. I mean, I do know that he had Gov. Paul LaPage's machine behind him which, you know, I think helped in terms of building a coalition that would support him. He also had - he checks a lot of boxes that LePage checked back in 2010 when he came out of nowhere.

ROOKS: Now a businessman...

MISTLER: Businessman - exactly. He has no political record, so there's really nothing to hit him with, outside of the fact that he is an independent and recently joined the Republican Party. And so in that sense, we're in an age where it seems as though - at least on the Republican side - there is this hunger for people who are not politicians at all, even though they're aspiring to be one. I just think they ran a pretty good campaign, and he has a lot of name recognition because he's a small business owner and a very successful one. So people know who he is and that seemed to play a big part in this.

ROOKS TO MAL LEARY: So last I saw you a little after midnight last night you were really fascinated by some of the numbers in this election year. Tell me what some of the numbers are telling you that make this election so interesting.

LEARY: Well, let's start off with that Republican primary, because it is the most fascinating one. What's interesting to me is far fewer Republican voters came out this time than in 2010, when Gov. LePage was nominated. I mean significantly. In 2010, the Republican turnout was over 131,000 voters. Right now we're looking at a Republican turnout of around 85,000 voters. So that's a significant difference. On the Democratic side, they have something to be happy about in that it looks like their turnout this year will closely match the 122,000 that turned out in 2010. So they're at least meeting the same levels of voter interest that they had eight years ago. But still, if I were running Moody's campaign I would be a little worried about the enthusiasm factor being so far down in the primary from what it was when Paul LePage won the primary eight years ago.

ROOKS:  What do the numbers tell you, Mal, about the ranked-choice voting referendum, the people's veto?

LEARY: Well, the ranked-choice voting folks did exactly what they said they needed to do, and that is they got a lot of unenrolled voters to show up at the polls. And we can say that by looking at the total turnout for folks who were running for governor, roughly 250,000 people voted in the ranked-choice voting question. When you look at how many people have cast ballots for governor, both Republicans and Democrats, it's still a little under 200,000. That's a big difference. That's a lot of unenrolled voters that the ranked-choice voting supporters got out to the polls. And I think it made a really big difference to them.

ROOKS:  Steve, how influential will this second vote - the second statewide vote - be when the Legislature convenes next time? Will there be more momentum to change the Constitution of Maine to make ranked-choice voting the law of the land? Or do you still expect resistance?

MISTLER: Well, I think in the short term, in terms of legal resistance, I think we'll see a lot less, and in part because Republicans have been leading the resistance against ranked-choice voting. But here they are, the day after the debut of this landmark law and voting system, with a majority winner. So, you know, they're not going to be able to go out and say, "Oh, we have been damaged by this process. We produced a majority winner." So I think that's going to pre-empt any lawsuits that were in the offing in the aftermath of this thing. In terms of how that translates to the Legislature, if lawmakers are watching these results and they're looking at the numbers, as Mal just told you they should be very cognizant of those numbers.  I mean, there was no reason, really, for independent voters to turn out yesterday because these are primary elections - they can't even vote in the primary contests. The only reason they came out for it was if they had a local ballot referendum issue to vote on or ranked-choice voting. And as Mal just pointed out, they came out and it looks like they came out for ranked-choice voting.

Maine Public Political Correspondents Steve Mistler and Mal Leary spoke with Maine Calling host Jennifer Rooks. Leary will host Maine Calling Thursday at 1 p.m. from the State House, where he will talk with legislative leaders about the election and about unfinished business still before them. This story was originally published June 13, 2018 at 5:24 p.m. ET.