Mary Lee Rounds, of Albion, sees only one choice for president in the November election: Donald Trump.

“There’s a negative reason and a positive one,” said Rounds, 72, speaking at a rally for the presumptive Republican nominee last month in Bangor. “The negative reason is I would never under any circumstances vote for Hillary Clinton. The positive reason is that Trump came out and said what everyone was thinking; and if nothing else, we owe him a debt of gratitude for speaking for the common man.”

As Rounds and her husband headed into the Cross Insurance Center for the rally, Emma Macaillen, a Democrat and Bernie Sanders supporter, stood yards away protesting Trump’s presence in Maine with a sign that read, “No sexism, racism, religious bigotry, violence or hatred in Maine.”

“I can’t decide what I’m going to do,” said Macaillen, 73, of Orono. “I’m so tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. I would be terrified of Trump as president, so probably that’s what it will come down to — voting to assure Trump does not get voted in.”

Those kind of feelings are not unusual in a high-stakes presidential race, but could those passions affect races farther down the ticket? Some political observers and voters think so.

Changes in voter turnout and demographics, fueled by the race between Trump and Clinton, could be a deciding factor in the neck-and-neck contest for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.


It’s a rematch of the 2014 race, in which U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the former state treasurer from Oakland, narrowly defeated Democrat Emily Cain, a former state lawmaker from Orono.

“Any time you’re talking about the biggest race in the country, which the presidential race is, without a doubt, it impacts all of the races that come below it to a certain degree,” said Mark Brewer, professor and interim department chairman of political science at the University of Maine.

As intensity builds in the 2nd District rematch, the presidential race is taking center stage. The Republican convention will be held Monday through Thursday in Cleveland, while the Democratic convention is to be held July 25-28 in Philadelphia.

Cain was an early supporter of Clinton, talking openly about her in a recent interview, while Poliquin hasn’t publicly endorsed Trump and has refrained from even saying the candidate’s name. Neither plans to attend his or her national party convention.

Lance Dutson, a Republican consultant in Maine, called Poliquin’s silence a smart approach, but others said it is only a matter of time before he will be forced to answer the question — one that voters have a right to know. In addition to affecting voter turnout and demographics, the presidential race also provides context on lower office races for voters.

“Voters can learn things about other politicians and candidates for office based on who they support and who they endorse,” Brewer said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that a candidate’s position on the presidential race matters.”



A recent Portland Press Herald/ Maine Sunday Telegram poll suggests the race between Poliquin and Cain will be closer than the statewide results for the presidential race.

The poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, had Clinton leading Trump in Maine, with 42 percent saying they were likely to vote for her, while 35 percent said they would vote for Trump. Another 19 percent said they would vote for somebody else and 4 percent were undecided.

It’s a different story in Maine’s 2nd District, though, where one electoral vote is up for grabs in the presidential race regardless of the statewide outcome. There, the poll found Trump narrowly beating Clinton, 37 percent to 36 percent, with 23 percent saying they would support another candidate and 4 percent undecided among likely voters.

The 2nd District represents nearly 80 percent of the state — it’s the largest geographic district east of the Mississippi River — with key urban centers such as Bangor and Lewiston, as well as Maine’s most rural areas.

According to the poll, more than half of likely voters in the 2nd District have lived in Maine for more than 30 years; most make $30,000 to $100,000 annually, have at least some college education and attend religious services rarely or never. Slightly more than half of respondents are gun owners.


Cain and Poliquin are locked in a statistical dead heat, according to the poll, with 41 percent of voters supporting Poliquin to Cain’s 40 percent, 12 percent undecided and 7 percent supporting someone else.

Cain, who endorsed Clinton in September, discussed the presidential race and her views on the candidates in a recent interview, saying she agrees with the former secretary of state’s economic policies and her promise to protect Social Security and Medicare.

“I think her focus on economic issues would have a positive impact on the 2nd District,” Cain said. “That’s manufacturing, infrastructure, research and development — really creating an economy that’s better for working families, and those are the people I meet across the 2nd District.”

Still, she doesn’t agree with Clinton on everything, and specifically cited Clinton’s past support of free trade agreements such as NAFTA as something she disagrees with.

“On trade, Donald Trump has been much better than Hillary. Hillary, like Congressman Poliquin, took far too long to acknowledge the obvious: that free trade hurts us and costs us jobs,” Cain said.

Meanwhile, Poliquin has not shied away from attacking Clinton. He released a statement recently after the FBI announced it would not press charges against Clinton over her use of private email servers while secretary of state, saying that the FBI’s investigation “yielded alarming findings” and calling Clinton’s actions “plainly unacceptable.”


Yet Poliquin has refused on several occasions to say directly whether he will support Trump.

He’s not alone among Republicans who have been slow to embrace their presumptive nominee for president or avoid talk of him.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has expressed reservations about Trump, has said that Trump needs to change his approach to politics and she publicly criticized Trump in June for his comments questioning the objectivity of judges based on their ethnicity or religion.

When asked recently about Trump, Brent Littlefield, a campaign consultant for Poliquin, provided an emailed statement in which Poliquin did not mention Trump by name and said it’s “critical the next president of the United States is helpful in creating jobs and growing the economy” and that “only one candidate now has been a major job creator.”

Littlefield, who is Poliquin’s primary spokesman, would not clarify or elaborate on the statement and said it is up to voters to discern whom the statement refers to.

“All we have to say is that Bruce has addressed this multiple times,” Littlefield said. “He is running his own race. He is representing the people of the district.”


Poliquin also did not attend the Trump rally in Bangor and was instead attending an event in Lewiston. That bothered Rounds, the Albion voter, who said she plans to support Poliquin but was “a little upset with him because he had better things to do today.”

Her husband, Charles Rounds, 75, agreed that Poliquin should show support for Trump: “The people have spoken and now it’s up to the rest of them (politicians) to fall into line.”

Dutson, the Republican political consultant, describes himself as “a big Poliquin supporter” and said there’s no need for the first-term congressman to closely align himself as being for or against Trump, despite pressure from his opponent and others.

In a news release last month, Cain said that the question of ‘Who are you supporting for president?’ is a basic one that provides insight for voters on a candidate’s values. “Hiding his positions might hurt Mainers, but it helps himself,” she said. “That’s wrong. I will always share my honest beliefs.”

Brewer also agreed that it is important for voters to know a candidate’s stance on the presidential race; but at the same time, he said, many Republicans run the risk of alienating potential groups of voters.

“It’s a tightrope to walk if you’re a down-ballot Republican candidate,” he said. “How do you do it so you keep disaffected, anti-Trump Republicans with you and get them to vote for you, while at the same time you tap into whatever new voter energy Trump has activated out there and get them to vote for you? That’s a tough one for Poliquin or for any Republican candidate.”



Even with Trump’s popularity among new voters and a potential push to secure the electoral vote in the 2nd District, there are questions about how well the presumptive Republican nominee will do in Maine. Recent presidential elections have tended to favor Democratic candidates, with the state giving a majority of its votes to Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008, John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000.

Presidential years also tend to bring higher voter turnout than nonpresidential years, and different types of voters. In both the 2012 and 2008 presidential elections, voter turnout in the 2nd District was more than 320,000 each year, while in recent nonpresidential years 2014 and 2010, voter turnout in the district has been under 290,000, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Maine already boasts a high voter turnout rate — the state had the highest voter turnout rate in the nation in 2014, with 58.1 percent — but the type of voters who choose to come out can also be influenced by a presidential race.

“More often than not, presidential years favor Democrats, and in Maine in recent years that’s been the case,” said James Melcher, a professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington. “There’s an old belief that Democrats always do better when the turnout is higher. That’s not always true, but in the last several elections in Maine we’ve seen Democrats do better in presidential years than nonpresidential years.”

Brewer, of the University of Maine, said presidential races tend to boost votes for Democrats because they draw out more low-income, younger and minority voters, all groups that tend to favor Democrats.


But Trump also has done well among low-income voters and could see a boost there, according to Melcher. Still, he said, off-year elections tend to draw out more young voters, an area where Clinton has done better than Trump.

“There’s things about this election that work for both, but I think the dynamics overall would favor Emily Cain,” Melcher said. “This is 2016. If it were 2018 or another off-year election, I would expect Poliquin to have more of an advantage.”

Several voters who came out to support Trump at the rally in Bangor said they would support Poliquin, many of them citing party allegiance.

Tim Thompson, of Addison, the chairman of the Washington County Republican party, said he supports Poliquin because “he’s not a liberal.”

“He seems to represent the Maine people,” said Thompson, 67. “The people of Maine’s 2nd District have conservative values. They’re people working and earning a living who believe in their independence, not in working to support somebody else.”

Democrats at the rally also cited party allegiances. Jonathan Stanhope, director of the Bangor office of the Maine People’s Alliance and a Democrat, was one of the organizers behind a protest against Trump at the rally. He said he “definitely” supports Emily Cain but expects it to be a tight race. A key to the success of Democrats down the ticket will be in uniting Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters, he said.


In a normal presidential year, Brewer and Dutson said, they would expect more voters to vote the party line; but with Donald Trump on the ballot, it appears there could be more cross-over votes.

“One thing we know about these new Trump voters is that many of them are just overwhelmingly anti-establishment,” Brewer said. “They’re not necessarily pro-Republican — they’re pro-Trump, anti-establishment. That leaves me to wonder whether they will go down the line and just check an R because Trump has an R.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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