From Tuesday evening until Saturday morning we were a nation obsessed. One of the most consequential presidential elections in U.S. history hung in the balance while vote counters counted and pundits explained over and over why the race could not yet be called.
Pollsters may have missed the mark again after their botched call of the 2016 election, but the major news networks had learned a lesson, providing 24/7 coverage during which they managed to avoid early hints about the outcome and continued to urge caution, hour after exhausting hour, about the eventual outcome.
Finally, it ended, and joyful Biden supporters poured into the streets to celebrate. President-elect Joe Biden and his vice-presidential pick, Kamala Harris, publicly claimed victory on Saturday night and at least half of the nation breathed a sigh of relief.
Caution is still in order; we are not entering Norman Rockwell territory here. The coronavirus pandemic may have been pushed off the front pages for a few days, but it is still out there, rampaging on with renewed vigor. The problems we faced a week ago are still with us. However, the constant potential for fresh disaster has lessened and if the tweet tirades are not over, they have been reduced to background noise.
The rest of Election Day seems a distant memory, but just last week we also made our choices of leaders for Maine. Most had been predicted, but our choice of U.S. senator was not. The expectation was that Sen. Susan Collins’ number was up because of her support of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, her general silence on President Donald Trump’s behavior, if not his policies, and her refusal to say whether she would vote for him.
The senator is a professional. She marched through a grueling campaign schedule with determination. The campaign was discouragingly nasty on both sides, and stunningly costly, though Collins managed to get by with just $76 million compared to Sara Gideon’s $130 million. She was clearly happier at local campaign events than she was on the debate stage, where the exchanges ranged from testy (with Gideon) to outrageous (from Max Linn).
It could not have been easy for Collins to see many of her customary Democratic supporters turn away. Advocacy groups who spoke out under the banner of “She’s not for you anymore” may find out that she’s not for them anymore. Collins serves on a powerful committee and has brought buckets of money home to Maine. There are surely those who put it all on the line for Gideon who have sweaty palms at the moment.
Overall, Hancock County races ended as expected. Democrat Lynne Williams (Bar Harbor) picked up term-limited Brian Hubbell’s seat with a healthy 55 percent of the vote in a three-way race despite a double-digit showing by independent Ben Meiklejohn. Republican Timothy Oh came in at less than a third of the total vote.
Democrat Nichole Grohoski held her seat (Ellsworth, Trenton) and Republican incumbent and lobsterman William “Billy Bob” Faulkingham (Gouldsboro) claimed more bottom with a decisive 64 percent win over former County Commissioner Antonio Blasi.
Democrats Sarah Pebworth (Blue Hill area) and Genevieve McDonald (coast and islands) skated through unopposed. Incumbent Republican Sherm Hutchins (Penobscot) cruised to a second term. Republican Kathy Downes, new to the Legislature but a familiar face in her hometown of Bucksport, won handily.
The only Hancock County news came from House District 137, where Republican Meldon (“Mickey”) Carmichael won against Democrat Maxwell Coolidge with a margin of 65 percent, the widest of any race in the county. State Sens. Kimberley Rosen and Louie Luchini held onto their seats, though Luchini lost his hometown of Ellsworth to fellow local Brian Langley.
Four of the seven incoming Hancock County legislators, including two of the newbies (Downes and Carmichael), have served as selectmen. Local government experience is an invaluable reality check for legislators. What looks good under the State House dome does not always pass the straight-face test back home.
If this has been a year of unsung heroes in the battle against the coronavirus, we have a whole new army of heroes coming out of the elections. Across the nation, poll workers turned out to cover the many tasks required in an election, and they were nothing less than superb. They may be the last bastion of bipartisanship, with Democrats and Republicans working side by side to ensure orderly and accurate voting.
The dedication of these workers, and of the town clerks who trained and led them, is unparalleled. The hours were long, the responsibility was stressful and the stakes enormous. Yet they remained steady, resolute, careful and impartial. We owe them our thanks.
The President-elect made a simple request in his first address to the nation: “Let’s give each other a chance.” It’s worth a try.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.