AUGUSTA — In a year with two wildly unpopular presidential candidates at the top of the ticket, candidates for the Maine Legislature aren’t counting on riding any coattails into office in November.

In fact, so-called “down-ticket” candidates from both major parties – and especially Republicans – said they are trying to keep discussions about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to a minimum as they knock on doors and woo voters.

The reason is simple: Neither candidate is really inspiring the party faithful in the Pine Tree State.

“Most voters are not excited about either candidate,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries and caucuses and is running for the Senate District 3 seat.

“When people ask where I’m at, you know I talk about Bernie,” McCabe said, adding, “and you know it gets easier for me with what Susan Collins has said, as she is very, very popular in my area.”

Collins, who is not up for re-election this year, announced in a Washington Post opinion column this month that she would not vote for Trump because of his disrespect for others and failure to adhere to historical Republican values. The move ended months of speculation about where Maine’s senior Republican stood on Trump’s candidacy.

It also ratcheted up attention on U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the 2nd District Republican who has repeatedly dodged reporters’ questions about whether he supports his party’s presidential nominee. Poliquin’s Democratic opponent, Emily Cain, has sharply criticized him for failing to take a position on Trump.

Brian Duff, an associate professor of political science at the University of New England, said Poliquin’s silence indicates that he does not believe an endorsement of Trump would strengthen his standing with the district’s voters.

“Certainly challenging Susan Collins and getting into a fight with Susan Collins to be a supporter of Donald Trump is not a wise move and I would not expect him to do it,” Duff said. “Even the governor doesn’t want to get into a back-and-forth with Susan Collins over this particular issue.”


All 151 seats in the Maine House of Representative are up for re-election this year, as well as all 35 state Senate seats.

The shadows cast by Trump and Clinton may not extend all the way down to Maine legislative races. But the impact of voter antipathy toward the White House contenders is difficult to predict for lower-level candidates, because this is not a typical year, as Michael Frantz, a political science professor at Bowdoin College, points out.

“The unpopularity of the candidates may mean that coattails from the top of the ticket will be weaker than normal,” Franz said. “Many people might support Clinton or Trump largely as a way to reject the other candidate. The only wrinkle is if either presidential candidate can tag state candidates with connections to the opposition.”

Franz said a good strategy for Democratic candidates, for example, would be to tag their opponents as “Trump Republicans” or suggest a Republican candidate supports Trump’s agenda, “hoping to box Republicans into publicly supporting the nominee. In that case,” he said, “we might see evidence of coattails through these negative associations.”

McCabe, the Skowhegan Democrat, said he knows Clinton isn’t that popular with many voters, but he will still vote for her and isn’t afraid to tell voters why, even though he is also at odds with her on several key issues, including gun control, and recognizes that many voters distrust her as much as Trump.

McCabe’s opponent, incumbent Sen. Rod Whittemore, did not respond to several requests for comment.

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who is running for re-election in District 20, said voters are concerned about the top of the ticket. “It’s what’s on their minds, and what they want to talk about,” he said.

Brakey, who supported Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s bid for the Republican nomination, said he’s candid with voters but doesn’t go out of his way to criticize Trump. Brakey, who also supported Ron Paul in 2012 over Mitt Romney, said he won’t tell people how to vote; it’s a decision for them to make.

Brakey’s Democratic challenger, Kimberly Sampson of Auburn, said Clinton hasn’t become a millstone for her and that she’s gained support from both Trump supporters and Clinton supporters.

“The voters I have been speaking with care more about skyrocketing property taxes and our struggling economy than national partisan politics,” Sampson said. “People are sick of politicians trying to make headlines instead of fighting for the needs of those they represent.”

But Lance Harvell, a Farmington Republican running for House District 113, said rural Franklin County voters certainly want to talk about the presidential election.

“Of course they do,” said Harvell, a former three-term legislator. “It’s what they see on the TV every night.”

Harvell said the assessment from voters for both Clinton and Trump is equally bad. “They hate her, I mean they just hate her,” Harvell said. “But they also know he’s a buffoon.”

Harvell said he tells voters he’s just as perplexed as they are. Harvell said Trump’s outspoken and sometimes shocking comments go beyond escaping political correctness.

“Political correctness is a problem because it creates a false sense of conformity and distorts free speech,” Harvell said, “but (Trump) seems to think it’s a license to be vulgar; it’s those kind of things.”

As to whom he will ultimately vote for, Harvell expressed the same idea as Collins, who said she’s considering a third candidate other than Trump or Clinton.

Scott Landry Jr., Harvell’s Democratic opponent, did not respond to a request for comment.


No legislative race in Maine illustrates Trump’s potential toxicity for a candidate like the race for Maine’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District seat. Poliquin has done all he can to avoid even mentioning Trump’s name, while his campaign and the Maine Republican Party have chastised the state’s press on social media and elsewhere for being “obsessed” with the presidential election.

But Poliquin’s differences with Trump are emerging in other ways – including his acceptance last week of an award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for his work in Congress on the behalf of business. The chamber has attacked Trump for his lack of understanding of international trade and the value of immigration.

At his rally June 29 in Bangor, the second largest city in the congressional district, Trump called the national business organization “a special interest that wants to have the deals that they want to have.”

The chamber “is controlled totally by various groups of people that don’t care about you whatsoever,” Trump told the crowd gathered inside the Cross Insurance Center, according to a New York Times report.

Cain, Poliquin’s Democratic opponent and a former state senator, has been unabashed about attacking Poliquin’s silence on Trump and also in making her support for Clinton known.

State Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, who is running for re-election against Democratic challenger Jonathan Fulford, said he’s really not hearing a lot from voters about the presidential candidates.

“When you are standing at their door, what they care about is something that’s important to them and that they think you can actually have an impact on,” Thibodeau said. “For them it’s about having an elected official that represents you and care(s) about the things that impact their lives.”

Fulford, who lost to Thibodeau by just 115 votes in the 2014 election, said he was a Sanders supporter but had “no idea” whether being in the same party as Clinton was helping or hurting him with potential voters.

Fulford said he thinks LePage had coattails in 2014 and his re-election win that year helped Maine Republicans recapture the Senate and pick up seats in the Maine House.

“Usually presidential years have even stronger coattails effects but because there is so much negativity around the presidential campaigns, I certainly couldn’t say what effect that’s going to have down ballot. I really don’t know,” Fulford said.

Fulford said one clear difference between the presidential race at the top of the ticket and his race against Thibodeau is their race is not being overshadowed with personal insults or outlandish claims by either of them.

“We have significant policy differences,” Fulford said. “And that’s (a) good thing to have a campaign that shows the differences between candidates based on what they want to do and how they want to achieve it. That’s the appropriate way to have the conversation and it shouldn’t be about personalities because it’s not like either one of us is a bad guy. Even if I disagree with the votes he’s taken, it’s not because he’s a bad person.”


Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.