UPDATE: Dill tops Maietta by wide margin in Maine Senate District 7 special election

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SOUTH PORTLAND — State Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, easily defeated her Republican challenger, Louis Maietta Jr., in a special election Tuesday for the District 7 seat in the state Senate.

Dill received 67 percent of the vote, 5,081 to 2,405, according to official results announced Thursday by the secretary of state’s office.

Dill won by 2-1 margins in her home town and in Maietta’s home city, South Portland. She had 67 percent of the vote (1,766 to 833) in Cape Elizabeth and 68 percent of the vote (2,840 to 1,271) in South Portland.

Dill received 60 percent of the vote in Scarborough, where the tally was 475-301.

Dill, whose House term expires in 2012, must resign that seat before being sworn in to the Senate, which was expected to happen Thursday. The secretary of state’s office said it will be up to the town of Cape Elizabeth to request a special election to fill the House District 121 seat.

Debra Lane, Cape Elizabeth’s assistant town manager and election supervisor, said it is too soon to say if or when the Town Council will decide to fill the House seat.

“The Town Council hasn’t discussed that yet,” Lane said. “I’m not even sure they know it’s up to them.”

If the Town Council decides not to fill the seat, Lane said it will remain vacant until the November 2012 general election, when Dill’s House term would expire.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, voter turnout was large for the Senate District 7 election.

South Portland City Clerk Susan Mooney said the city started the day with only about 1,100 ballots, but ended up having to print more to accommodate the more than 4,000 people who wanted to vote.

“We were slammed,” Mooney said Wednesday morning. “We were stacked up quite a bit throughout the day. But I didn’t get the impression people were annoyed by having to wait in line.”

Both candidates sounded optimistic while working the crowds at the South Portland Community Center.

“I feel really good,” Dill said on Tuesday afternoon. “I feel there’s really a lot of good energy around my campaign.”

At around 6 p.m., two voting lines at the Community Center stretched from the polls in the senior wing, down a long corridor and past locker rooms and the gymnasium.

Most voters would not discuss why they felt it was important to vote in the special election, let alone who they supported.

But Carley Cummings, 22, said she always votes in elections, and felt it was important to support both Dill and the South Portland school budget.

George and Anna Christie said they also voted for Dill and the school budget.

Anna Christi, 39, said the two votes were inextricably linked. She also faulted Republicans for talking about creating jobs, while also trying to cut education funding.

“I don’t see how you can have jobs in this state if you don’t have kids who are educated,” she said.

But George Christie, 50, said he was swayed by mailers sent by the Democratic Party that questioned Maietta’s personal finances.

Maietta on Wednesday morning said his candidacy was hurt more by the election’s timing with the school budget than the mailers sent the weekend before the election, while he was at his daughter’s wedding in the Caribbean.

He noted the near parity in South Portland between the Senate race, which broke in Dill’s favor by a 2,840 to 1,271 vote, and the school budget, which passed 2,458 to 1,226.

“It was basically the school budget that took me out,” he said. “The same numbers that passed the school budget, she got. And the ones that voted against it, I got.”

Both Maietta and Dill denounced the negative tone established by the state parties in the final weeks of the campaign. Dill said she would like to be a part of a community discussion with residents and the party about negative campaign tactics.

Although Maietta said negative campaigning is a part of modern election, he said the Democrats went after him personally, while Republican mailers focused on Dill’s public voting record and blog posts. 

He also claimed the Democratic attacks were based on false and out-of-context information.

“It was sleazy,” he said. “I think it’s going to discourage a lot of good people from jumping in (to elections). Why would they give them the opportunity to start tearing up their family lives and personal lives with accusations and not facts?”

The results also fueled speculation that the special election was a referendum on the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. The margin of victory for the Democratic candidate grew from about 75 votes last November, when former state Sen. Larry Bliss of South Portland was re-elected, to about 1,600 Tuesday.

Maietta said he heard from teachers and residents during the campaign who were concerned about Gov. Paul LePage’s policies, especially regarding state pensions.

While Dill credited her credentials, message and campaign staff for her win, she said her overwhelming victory was a rejection of not only LePage, but the GOP agenda in general.

“I have been one of the most outspoken critics of the LePage administration and that is I think the reason there was so much vitriol thrown at me,” Dill said. “I think also in large part my candidacy was somewhat symbolic of the rebuke of what the LePage administration stands for.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

This report was updated on Thursday, May12, 2011.

Sidebar Elements

State Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, is interviewed in the lobby of the South Portland Community Center on Tuesday as residents line up to vote in a special election to pick a new state senator in District 7. Dill defeated South Portland Republican Louis Maietta Jr. by a 2-1 margin.Election volunteer Woody Leland, left, looks on as South Portland City Clerk Susan Mooney announces the number of machine-tallied votes after the polls closed Tuesday night.