UPDATE: Palmieri to seek recount as South Portland sends Democrats back to a different Legislature

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Four Democratic incumbents won re-election Tuesday, but will return to the Statehouse in a very different environment after the red tide that swept Republicans into the Blaine House and Legislature.

But one apparent winner will likely face a recount.

According to unofficial tallies, Rep. Terry Morrison was re-elected to the House District 122 seat, Rep. Jane Eberle won again in House District 123 and Rep. Bryan Kaenrath held House District 124.

Sen. Larry Bliss, D-South Portland, seemingly squeaked out re-election by 64 votes in Senate District 7 seat, fending off a challenge from radio personality and Scarborough business owner Joseph Palmieri, a Republican.

Bliss, 63, received 9,142 votes, getting most of his support in his hometown of South Portland and in Cape Elizabeth. However, the 53-year-old Palmieri, who received 9,078 votes, took Scarborough, 1,240 to 833.

“I knew it was going to be close,” Bliss said. “This opponent is clearly the strongest opponent I have faced.”

When contacted Thursday, Palmieri said he would “absolutely” seek a recount.

Like many Democrats on Wednesday morning, Bliss was still trying to process the prospect of working under Gov.-elect Paul LePage, R-Waterville, and a Republican-controlled Legislature.

But Bliss, who acknowledged his “narrow victory” made him more thankful to residents who showed confidence in his leadership, said he is hopeful that state government can operate on a non-partisan basis.

“We have an opportunity for both parties to reach across the aisle,” he said. “The legislative branch collectively needs to figure out how to work with the executive branch. Frankly, there’s nothing wrong every now and then with trying new leadership.”

Morrison, the 39-year-old manager at Portland’s Inn at St. John, defeated 76-year-old Republican challenger Howard R. Farr Jr., 2,880 to 1,400, to represent South Portland’s east end.

Morrison said he felt there was widespread support for his candidacy, but encountered an increasing number of people during his campaign who were voting for Republicans because they were tired of Democratic rule.

Morrison said efforts to establish viable renewable energy sources may not move forward as quickly under Republicans and foreshadowed a battle over how to close an estimated $1 billion budget shortfall.

“We are going to disagree fundamentally on how to cut the budget, so I’m really nervous about that,” he said.

But Morrison said he will pursue bipartisan legislation that affects all Mainers, such as domestic violence and anti-bullying awareness bills.

Eberle, a 57-year-old director of business and community partnerships in the South Portland school system, defeated 36-year-old Republican challenger Kenneth E. Myrick, 2,898 to 1,479, to represent part of South Portland and part of Cape Elizabeth.

“I had wondered all along how the national frenzy would filter down to Maine and then to the local races,” Eberle said. “I think many of the local races reflect that. But voters in Cape Elizabeth and South Portland stand true to their true independent spirit.”

Under Republican control, Eberle said, she plans to redouble her efforts to protect vulnerable Mainers and to maintain important environmental protections that Republicans believe conflict with business growth.

“With the whole big picture changing around me, I have to be even more careful and protective of my community and my constituents, because it’s going to be such a different landscape,” she said.

Kaenrath, a 27-year-old full-time student, defeated 34-year-old Republican Adam Barter, 1,821 to 1,066, to represent South Portland’s west end.

“We’re in the minority now,” said Kaenrath, who admitted he was nervous on election night. “It’s going to involve working together and I’ve always wanted to do that.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

This story was last updated on Thursday, Nov. 4.

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