AUGUSTA, Maine—Amid hugs, high-fives and hurrahs, Maine Republicans on Wednesday celebrated huge victories at the polls that will give them control of the governorship and both houses of the Legislature for the first time in a half century, saying they're elated but humbled by voters' actions.
"It is a new day in Augusta," said state Sen. Kevin Raye of Perry, who helped engineer the Republicans' apparent 20-14 majority in the Senate, where one independent was also elected. In the House, the GOP took 77 seats to the Democrats' 73, with one independent elected. "We're thrilled by our victory but are humbled by the task that lies ahead."
GOP state chairman Charles Webster said three likely recounts in the House won't erase his party's edge. A possible Senate recount could take away a Democratic seat.
Scores of newly elected Republican legislators and party activists gathered for a raucous rally in the State House, which has been under Democratic control for the past eight years under Gov. John Baldacci, also a Democrat. Baldacci is stepping down after serving the maximum two terms allowed by law.
Republicans rode a wave of voter anger and discontent, powered in part by the tea party movement and their efforts to appeal to working-class Mainers to achieve their historic victories.
"The Democrats in Maine have lost their way and forgot they were the party of the working class," said Webster, adding that Democrats were "not representing the views of everyday people."
"Maine people want to be left alone. They want to work hard and keep their own money, and not have to spend it on government ... We're sick and tired of the attitude that government can take from us who work hard simply because they can do it."
Republicans, and especially Gov.-elect Paul LePage, have called for smaller government, eased regulations so businesses can create jobs, and lower taxes en route to their victories.
LePage, the first Republican to be elected governor since 1990, said that winning the House and Senate will deflect criticism that his victory in a five-way race, with 38 percent of the vote, was a fluke.
"What it says is that Maine is ready to switch directions. It speaks loudly when you get the House, the Senate and the governor in the same election cycle," LePage said.
A veteran Democratic legislator, Rep. Sharon Treat of Hallowell, said the Republicans now have to clarify their agenda.
"It's (their) responsibility to put together a positive agenda for the state of Maine," said Treat. "It's not clear what they want to do."
But Treat said her party will not back away from its commitment to issues like fair wages, protecting homeowners from foreclosures and protecting the jobs of sick workers.
Maine Democrats were not alone in losing ground in their Legislature.
Tim Storey, an elections expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Republicans gained close to 700 seats nationally, more than they gained in 1994. He said it would be the most Republican legislators in state legislatures since 1928.