Gov. Mills continues to outraise LePage in governor's race

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Jun. 3—Democratic Gov. Janet Mills continues to raise more money than her Republican challenger, former two-term Gov. Paul LePage, in the race for the Blaine House.

Newly filed finance reports show Mills raised nearly $517,000 over the past month, bringing her re-election fundraising total to $3.2 million. LePage raised nearly $146,000 last month and has brought in a total of nearly $1.5 million to finance his campaign.

Mills also has significantly more cash on hand — $2.3 million to LePage's $948,000. Neither Mills nor LePage has a primary opponent, allowing them to build war chests for the November general election.

"Our fundraising success demonstrates that Maine people believe in Janet and her strong leadership," Mills campaign manager Alexandra Raposo said in a written statement.

Brent Littlefield, a LePage campaign strategist, said in an email that LePage "has always been outspent." He noted that LePage's fundraising totals have surpassed his totals at this point in 2014, adding that 83 percent of LePage donors are new. At this point in 2014, LePage had raised $1 million for his re-election bid and had about $760,000 in cash on-hand, Littlefield said.

LePage went on to win re-election in a three-way race, earning 48 percent of the vote.

The money raised by the candidates is expected to represent a portion of the total spending on what will likely be an expensive and hard-fought race, with state parties and outside groups also expected to spend millions of dollars.

The Maine Republican Party has already reserved $4 million worth of ad time, while the Democratic Governor's Association has booked $5 million worth of ad time.

Eleven-day pre-primary finance disclosures for the most recent reporting period covering April 27 to May 30 were due Friday. Full reports for both party candidates were not available on Friday afternoon, but the top-line figures were provided by the campaigns.

These are the first round of reports since each party held their respective conventions and adopted policy platforms.

Republicans approved a platform that opposed abortion, LGBTQ rights and took aim at the way racial issues are taught in schools, while Democrats took the opposite approach, while also highlighting the Jan. 6 insurrection and the threat they say some Republicans pose to democracy itself.

LePage is running to secure an unprecedented third, nonconsecutive term as governor by unseating Mills, the state's first woman to serve as governor.

Independent candidate, Sam Hunkler, a physician from Beals, qualified this week to be the only other candidate on the November ballot, but said in an interview that he is setting a $5,000 campaign budget, excluding travel expenses, as he mounts a grassroots campaign. His most recent fundraising report was not immediately available, but he had raised $1,400 through April 26 and had all but $183 on-hand.

Hunkler could not be reached Friday afternoon.

Recent polling has shown that economic issues, such as inflation and the high cost of energy, gasoline and groceries, are top-of-mind for most voters at this point. Republicans have been working to link Mills with President Biden, whose approval rating is underwater here, and blame Democrats for rising costs.

Mills, however, has countered that a governor cannot control the global forces driving inflation, including supply chain disruptions and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And she has highlighted her signature — and bipartisan — budget initiative this year: returning about 60 percent of the projected $1.2 billion state surplus to Maine taxpayers earning less than $100,000 as individuals or $200,000 for couples filing jointly, in the form of $850 checks.

The checks are expected to begin arriving in people's mailboxes sometime next week.

"Janet has delivered one of the strongest relief proposals in the nation to help Maine people deal with rising costs," Raposa said. "She has led Maine to a strong economic recovery, with our economy recovering all the jobs lost during the pandemic and the unemployment rate dropping to below the New England and U.S. averages. She guided Maine through a global pandemic with nation-leading results, and she has delivered unprecedented progress for Maine people in a strong, bipartisan way. She knows there is more work to do, from expanding child care to strengthening our workforce, which is why she will fight every day for hardworking Maine people."

Despite the fundraising gap, many believe Republicans head into the mid-term elections with more enthusiasm.

Democrats are trying to counter that by highlighting possible threats to abortion and LGTBQ rights if Republicans get elected, especially after a leaked draft opinion showed that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would kick abortion rights to the states.

But Republicans have hit back, spending tens of thousands of dollars on ads criticizing Mills for a video posted online by the Department of Education about how to explain LGBTQ rights to kindergartners. The video was later pulled from the site.