AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine voters had plenty of choices Tuesday to replace firebrand Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has served the maximum two terms allowed.
A field of 11 Democrats and Republicans are seeking party nominations for the opportunity to succeed LePage, who streamlined government, lowered taxes and trimmed welfare but also angered some with his harsh tone and policy decisions.
Voters on Tuesday didn’t just select their favorite candidates. They ranked the candidates from first to last, using the ranked-choice voting system for the first time in statewide primaries.
By midday, LePage, a long-time opponent of ranked voting, called the election overhaul the “most horrific thing in the world.” He threatened not to certify Tuesday’s election results, but Maine’s top election official quickly said that the governor can’t stop primary election results from moving forward.
Democratic Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said the governor could refuse to sign a proclamation of the results but that still wouldn’t stop the nominations from taking effect.
“He can bluster,” Dunlap said.
The new system is aimed at producing consensus candidates and reducing personal attacks. But it didn’t prevent candidates from attacking perceived front-runners Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills and independent-turned-Republican businessman Shawn Moody.
The system works like this: Voters rank candidates from first to last, and the election is over if one candidate wins a majority. If not, ballots will be shipped to Augusta for additional rounds of voting next week.
The last-place candidate will be eliminated and votes reallocated. There can be as many rounds as necessary until a candidate gets a majority.
Two Democratic candidates, former House Speaker Mark Eves and former Maine Women’s Lobby Director Betsy Sweet, urged supporters to rank them first and second on the ballot in hopes of boosting their odds of winning.
LePage, a fiscal conservative who has compared his style to President Donald Trump’s, was elected in 2010 in a multicandidate race amid a Tea Party wave of conservatism.
He declined to endorse a candidate, but his family has ties to Moody. LePage’s daughter, Lauren, is working for Moody’s campaign, and his wife, Ann, endorsed Moody in campaign ads.
The three other Republican candidates are state Sen. Garrett Mason, Mary Mayhew, LePage’s former health commissioner, and Republican House leader Ken Fredette.
Moody has cast himself as the “outsider businessman,” while Mayhew has pledged to fight for conservative goals, such as reducing dependence on government benefits.
Democratic hopefuls also included Adam Cote, a lawyer and military veteran; Mark Dion, a state lawmaker and former sheriff; Diane Russell, a former state lawmaker; and former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion.
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