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AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Maine’s state primaries

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Maine voters already cast their votes for president, but they’re back at it on Tuesday for the state primary election. This time, voters will choose two nominees who will vie for a U.S. House seat that could be critical to determining which party wins the majority.

When former President Donald Trump won Maine’s 2nd District in 2016, it seemed like another sign that the largely rural district was moving even further away from Democrats. Maine allocates some of its Electoral College votes to the winners of individual congressional districts, giving Trump a boost despite his statewide loss. Just two years prior, Republican Bruce Poliquin replaced Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud in the U.S. House.

But the trend toward Republicans hit a roadblock in 2018, when Democrat Jared Golden defeated Poliquin. Even as Trump went on to win the 2nd District again in 2020, Golden has continued to win reelection.

This time, however, Republicans including Trump and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson are hoping that state Rep. Austin Theriault, a former NASCAR driver, can defeat Golden. But first, Theriault has to get through the primary.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Tuesday:

PRIMARY DAY

The primary will be held on Tuesday. Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide coverage for 20 contested races, including Republican primary elections in both of Maine’s seats in the U.S. House. The remaining races are primaries for the state House and state Senate.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

Registered party members may vote only in their own party’s primary. In other words, Democrats can’t vote in the Republican primary or vice versa. However, voters who have not enrolled with a political party may affiliate at the polls and participate in any primary.

DECISION NOTES

Maine is separated into two congressional districts: a Democratic-leaning district in the south and a political battleground in the north.

In the northern 2nd District, Republicans have been increasingly successful in elections in recent years, especially since Trump was first elected. The towns and counties where Trump received the most votes in 2020 could be strong areas for Theriault, who received Trump’s endorsement. That includes Penobscot County, home to Bangor, and Oxford County, which shares a border with New Hampshire. Both of those counties also include casinos. While Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election carried the city of Auburn in Androscoggin County, which borders the 1st District, Trump still received a significant batch of votes there, too.

In the state legislature, Theriault represents a district on the northern tip of Maine in Fort Kent. In this year’s presidential primary, Trump received 87% of the vote, or 205 votes, in Fort Kent. But Trump also won dozens of small surrounding towns by overwhelming margins, a pattern that Theriault will hope to replicate to build a winning coalition in the primary.

Theriault has a major financial advantage over the other Republican on the ballot, state Rep. Michael Soboleski. As of the May 22 filing deadline, Theriault had raised $1.2 million, while Soboleski had raised $117,000.

Soboleski’s district includes Franklin, Somerset and Oxford counties. Dale Crafts, the Republican nominee in 2020, has backed Soboleski, as have multiple state legislators.

In the 1st District, anchored by Portland, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree is running unopposed in a seat that she’s held since 2010. It’s also a district that Biden won in 2020 and that Hillary Clinton won against Trump in the 2016 general election.

Maine uses ranked-choice voting for legislative primaries with more than two candidates on the ballot, but most races on the ballot Tuesday have only two candidates to choose from. One state legislative race in Cape Elizabeth, where three candidates are running for District 123, could go to ranked-choice voting if no candidate receives 50% of first-choice votes. One of the three candidates on the ballot in the Democratic race in the 118th district withdrew from consideration Monday, meaning votes will only be counted for two candidates and it is no longer eligible for ranked-choice voting.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

Candidates may request a recount regardless of the margin of the race.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

As of March 5, there were 1,150,204 registered voters in Maine. Of those, 35% were Democrats and 28% were Republicans.

In the 2022 primary for governor, turnout was 6% of 1,117,145 registered voters in the Democratic primary and 5% in the Republican primary. Both races were uncontested.

In the June 2022 primary, about 12% of votes in that election were cast before Election Day.

This year, as of June 5, a total of 16,194 ballots had been cast before Election Day, about 55% in the Democratic primary and 31% in the Republican primary.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE-COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In the 2022 Republican primary for the 2nd Congressional District, the AP first reported results at 8:17 p.m. ET, or 17 minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 2:16 a.m. ET with about 79% of total votes counted.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Tuesday, there will be 147 days until the November general election.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

By LEAH ASKARINAM
Associated Press

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