Eric Trump speaks at Thursday’s campaign event at Camp Ellis in Saco, which drew about 200 people, some from as far away as Pennsylvania. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

When Seth Dube was growing up in Camp Ellis, Saco’s gritty seaside community boasted a robust ground fishing fleet, but the draggers are mostly gone now, replaced by lobster boats like his. The sixth-generation fisherman blames government overregulation for that industry’s demise, and used to worry lobstering could be next.

That was before President Trump became a friend of the Maine fisherman, Dube said – reopening marine monuments to fishing, delaying environmental rules that would have forced some lobstermen to install greener diesel engines, inking a trade deal allowing tariff-free lobster trade with Europe and giving lobstermen trade relief for lost China sales.

“The Trump administration has become a driving force to protect the fishery,” Dube said at a “Make America Great Again” rally at Camp Ellis on Thursday. “The ground fishermen were regulated out of business along with the Maine shrimp fishery, forcing families to find other jobs and other means to make a living. We can’t let the same thing happen to lobster.”

The rally, which featured Trump’s son, Eric, as its headliner, drew about 200 people out to the pier, some from as far away as Pennsylvania. They draped themselves in oversized American flags, danced to Toby Keith and Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes and chanted “Four More Years” when Eric Trump bounded up to the stage.

On their way to the event, which was held in the heart of a half-square-mile cluster of modest beach cottages and renovated Army barracks, attendees were greeted by supportive yard signs, flags and spray-painted sheets hanging from balcony railings.

A handful of BLM, pro-Biden and “shame-on-you” COVID-19 signs peeped out of the dunes, but no protesters were near the rally itself.

About a third of the crowd wore masks. Trump, Dube and Swans Island lobsterman Jason Joyce, who praised the president’s support for the iconic Maine industry at the Republican National Convention last month, did not, although the folding chairs set up in the city-owned parking lot where the campaign event was held were spaced about 5 feet apart.

Trump riled up the crowd with crowd-pleasing jokes about Biden, former Secretary of State John Kerry, the Democratic National Party and the mainstream media. Biden “doesn’t know where he is or what he’s saying,” Kerry has fallen off a bike 400 times, Democrats are childlike, and the media is fake and horrible, Trump declared in a 25-minute address.

“Lobstermen do more work before 5 a.m. than Biden has done in the last two weeks,” Trump said, to huge applause.

Trump supporters try to get close to Eric Trump during his visit to Camp Ellis in Saco on Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

He urged attendees to make sure to get out to vote themselves, and asked them to spend a few hours at the polls on Election Day itself to guard against what he predicted would be widespread attempts by the Democratic Party to cheat their way to victory, possibly through the abuse of pandemic-inspired vote-by-mail strategies.

President Trump and some of his Republican supporters have repeatedly attacked mail-in voting systems, alleging without evidence that they are ripe for voter fraud while drawing confusing distinctions between states that mail all voters a ballot, and states like Maine that only send ballots to registered voters who request them.

Eric Trump said he was so disgusted by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s police budget cuts and decision to disband plainclothes anti-crime units that he said he planned move to Maine after the election. The crowd erupted in a mix of boos and cheers when he referred to de Blasio as comrade.

But Trump returned again and again to his father’s love for Maine fishermen, likening them to other rough-and-tumble but hard-working professions like the loggers of Minnesota and the oil and gas workers of Pennsylvania and Ohio that turn out to Trump’s MAGA events, even though his father, like Eric Trump, is a New York businessman.

“Guys, what I promise you is this: we as a family will never let you down,” he told the crowd. “We will never, ever let you down.”

Democrats are quick to point out that the highly touted trade relief program wouldn’t have been necessary if Trump had avoided the trade war with China altogether, and that the reopening of Northeast Canyon and Seamounts Marine National Monument does not help Maine lobstermen because it is so far away, and was never closed to lobstering anyway.

Protesters look on as Eric Trump leaves Camp Ellis in Saco after Thursday’s campaign event. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“President Trump’s disastrous leadership and broken promises have wreaked havoc on our economy,” said Kathleen Mara, the chairman of the Maine Democratic Party. “Trump promised better trade deals, but his reckless war has upended industries from lobster to heavy manufacturing with no benefit in return.”

After his speech, Eric Trump spent a few minutes on the pier considering his father’s recent actions on behalf of the lobster industry.

“My father loves incredible people and fishermen are incredible people,” Trump said. “They are the hardest-working people.”

Trump said his father campaigned in 2016 on a promise to step up to protect hard-working people whose industries were being shut down by overzealous government regulations. Reopening the marine monument to fishing, signing a trade deal with the EU and launching the Seafood Trade Relief Program is Trump’s way of keeping his promise, Eric Trump said.

“That’s what he promised to do,” Trump said. “That’s exactly what my father has done.”

Trump highlighted the importance of the trade relief program announced last week. The program, intended to make fishermen whole from losses suffered because of the U.S.-China trade war, will pay lobstermen 50 cents for every pound of lobster they landed in 2019, up to $250,000. Trump called that program “transformational” for the industry.

“Fifty cents a pound is a lot of money,” Trump said. “The fishing industry is an incredibly tight-margin business. That greatly increases margins, lets people reinvest in their boats and houses and families and businesses, and makes them more efficient. I’m proud of him for doing that.”

He predicted his father would eventually expand the seafood trade relief program to help out lobster dealers and processors, who are currently excluded from that program. Former Gov. Paul LePage, who helped introduce Eric Trump to the crowd, said President Trump knows that dealers and processors are hurting, too, and wants to help.

There were other things important to Maine lobstermen that he didn’t talk about, namely, the industry’s ongoing court battle to stay open despite environmental groups’ efforts to eliminate buoy lines that can fatally entangle the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. He deferred a reporter’s questions about right whales to the White House.

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