Academic journal article The New England Journal of Political Science

A Summer 2017 Update on Maine Politics

Academic journal article The New England Journal of Political Science

A Summer 2017 Update on Maine Politics

Article excerpt

Maine's 2016 elections brought a good deal of change that attracted national attention, including its casting an electoral vote for a Republican for the first time since 1988. Maine's ballot initiatives brought new policies that attracted widespread attention as well. But what did not change is how Governor Paul LePage has found himself at loggerheads with the state legislature, and also with voters over their choices in the 2016 election. In fact, while a lot of change may have seemed to be in the air both during and after the election, so far what's remarkable is what hasn't changed-with the notable exception of Maine's vote for president.

2016 Presidential Race

In every election since 1992, Maine had given all four of its electoral votes to the Democratic presidential candidate. The presidential election of 2016 marked a break from this pattern when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took one of Maine's four electoral votes. Hillary Clinton, who was beaten handily by Bernie Sanders in the Maine caucuses, took the other three electoral votes. While Trump lost the First Congressional District and the state overall, he won the Second Congressional District by ten percentage points (5141%) after he visited it multiple times. Clinton won the state overall by almost 3% (48-45%) and the First District 54-39%. The First District, which includes Portland, is higher income, younger, more educated and more diverse, while other parts of the state have less income and wealth and are whiter, older and less educated. Economic and population growth is more pronounced in the former, while the latter has experienced struggles in dealing with manufacturing losses and conflict over land use issues.

This regional division and shift mirror national patterns involving rural versus urban areas, a dynamic which has long been chronicled in the Pine Tree State and described as the "two Maines." The Second District's two biggest municipalities, Lewiston and Bangor, supported Clinton, but these towns and some wealthy, highly educated areas on the coast that sit in the Second District were swamped by a Trump wave. In fact, Trump carried every county in Maine away from the Atlantic Coast. In 2016 and previously, political differences between these districts and within the Second District have also been seen in referenda relating to hunting, marriage equality and gun control, as well as in gubernatorial and congressional elections.

2016 Congressional Races

The race in Maine's Second Congressional District drew national attention as one of the most competitive contests for the U.S. House of 2016. Not only did it feature more television ads than any other U.S. House race in the country, it was, at $15 million, the most expensive Congressional election in Maine history. But in spite of being outspent by his opponent-former State Senator and Maine House Minority Leader, Democrat Emily Cain-first term Congressman Bruce Poliquin won by a surprisingly large margin, 55%-45%. Poliquin, a Republican, first was elected in 2014, beating Cain by five percentage points. While that increase is consistent with the "sophomore surge" theory, in which members of Congress experience a significant gain in vote share the first time they run for re-election, Poliquin was also helped by the absence of Blaine Richardson from the race, who garnered 11% of the vote as a conservative Independent candidate in 2014. Both the 2014 and 2016 races also were notable for the presence of statewide ballot initiatives opposed by many gun owners-one placing limits on bear hunting in 2014 and another calling for strengthened background checks for firearms transfers. In a district where over 60% of voters own guns, the combination of the initiatives spurring gun owner turnout and Poliquin's greater support than Cain among gun owners gave Poliquin advantages. Moreover, Poliquin's second win after Democratic candidates had won the congressional seat in the ten previous races, coupled with Trump's win there, suggested that the Second District may have shifted its overall party complexion. …

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