MILLINOCKET — Michael Madore and Tom Leet remember when this was called the “Magic City,” an oasis of prosperity in the dense Maine woods. The magic and the paper mills that created it are gone, and the two men disagree on which presidential candidate can best help bring something – anything – back. But they know this year their vote might have a little more weight than usual.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have lavished an unusual amount of attention on rural northern Maine this election cycle because the state splits its two Electoral College votes between its two congressional districts – one in the northern part of the state, the other in the south. The line that divides them is emblematic of the divides that have emerged this election cycle: urban vs. rural, college educated vs. not, well-off vs. working class, and Clinton vs. Trump.

“The southern part of the state usually speaks for the northern,” but not this election year, said Leet, who plans to cast a ballot for Trump.

The more densely populated 1st Congressional District in the south, which includes Portland, looks as though it will swing for Clinton. But polls have shown a virtual dead heat between Clinton and Trump in the 2nd District, and both campaigns are showing up to a place that even some Mainers said feels forgotten.

Clinton trails Trump in this part of the state by about 7 points, according to the latest RealClearPolitics polling average, and each side is scrambling to try to gain an advantage.

But a new poll reported Saturday in the Portland Press Herald showed Clinton leading Trump 38.2 percent to 37.0 percent in a four-way race scenario in the 2nd District. The poll, conducted Oct. 14-15 by the Maine People’s Resource Center, has a margin of error of 3.3 percent.

Trump has visited the state four times this year, including a rally in Bangor last weekend. Earlier in the month, he dispatched his son Eric and daughter-in-law Lara to campaign at an apple orchard and speak in the campaign’s stuffy storefront headquarters in Bangor. Clad in a gray suit, Eric Trump told the crowd his father would bring jobs back to the United States and beef up the military.

“We’re doing so well in northern Maine,” Eric Trump told a local television. “We’re gonna win Maine.”

Clinton’s campaign has dispatched volunteers throughout the district to knock on doors and phone-bank, and all but two of her staffers in the state have been deployed to the 2nd District.

Her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, daughter Chelsea and “Lord of the Rings” actor Sean Astin also campaigned in northern Maine.

One of Clinton’s most important surrogates in Maine has been her former primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of nearby Vermont, who trounced Clinton in the Maine caucuses. Sanders’ message of income inequality and ire against Wall Street strongly resonated in a state where the manufacturing base has been hollowed out.

“Mr. Trump has made our bad trade policies a very important part of his campaign and he comes to Maine and goes all over the country … and he says he’s against outsourcing,” Sanders said during an Oct. 7 visit to Bangor.

Here in Millinocket, the gateway to Mount Katahdin, a nearly mile-high peak that is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, the city’s paper mill closed a few years ago and vacant storefronts line the main street. The paper mill in neighboring East Millinocket shut down in 2014.

“We are surviving, we are still here, but certainly not what we were,” Madore said of Millinocket, noting its population has fallen to 4,500 from 9,000 during the heyday of the mills.

Madore said he plans to vote for Clinton, believing that her experience could help Maine with trade. The state is exporting many of its lobsters to China, feeding a booming market for the crustaceans. Millinocket has signed contracts with multiple Chinese schools that guarantee payments of thousands of dollars to the town so Chinese students can study here.


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