Voters are worried about the economy but divided on who to hold accountable

The economy was at the top of mind for voters in Maine’s Tuesday elections, but the results raised questions about how they will hold local figures accountable for it in November.

Republicans are hoping voters will extend blame from President Joe Biden, whose approval rating slid this week to the low point of his tenure at just above 39 percent nationally, to Gov. Janet Mills to congressional and legislative candidates who have looked slightly more durable in recent polling ahead of the primary election.

The first test of that strategy backfired when Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, easily won a special election for a Maine Senate seat in Hancock County over former Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, with nearly 64 percent of votes. Democrats outspent Republicans by nearly a 9-to-1 margin and Langley may have a better chance to win with higher turnout in November.

Democrats held that up as proof that sticking to local issues can overcome national ire. But rising inflation and costs are expected to persist into the fall as the Federal Reserve tries to slow inflation by hiking interest rates and stocks slide. State officials warned in April that energy prices would be the “greatest challenge for state revenues” if consumers could not keep up.

Voters focused most on economic issues while discussing the November matchup between Democrat Gov. Janet Mills and Republican former Gov. Paul LePage across Maine on Tuesday. Those wary of a LePage return argued Mills had handled the COVID-19 pandemic well.

“I like Gov. Mills. I’m very happy with her,” said Duane Scott, a retired independent from Augusta. “She’s had a tough couple of years.”

Contrast that with Charlene Gerrish, a former nurse and Republican from Scarborough who wants to vote out Mills. She said the economy would likely be a factor in a possible LePage victory, pointing to his former experience as a businessman.

“Things were better for us economically back then,” she said.

Former governor Paul LePage talks with Mike Smith from Bangor as he pumps gas for him during a campaign stop on May 18, 2022, at the Dysart’s on Broadway in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik

Republicans are looking to capitalize on those feelings by linking Mills and other Democrats to Biden, albeit with dated connections. One Maine GOP email congratulating former Rep. Bruce Poliquin on his 2nd Congressional District primary victory included a 2018 Biden quote endorsing Democratic Rep. Jared Golden’s first campaign for the office that year.

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