In a race drawing national attention, Democrat and former Vice President Joe Biden was leading Republican President Trump by more than 60,000 votes in Maine returns reported early Wednesday.

Trump shot off to an early lead in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District while returns in the state’s more southern and densely populated 1st Congressional District showed Biden carrying a majority of the vote there.

The Democrat steadily added to his totals as tallies for Maine’s urban voters began to flow in late Tuesday and early Wednesday. As of 2:20 a.m., Biden had 53 percent of the vote to Trump’s 44 percent, with 84 percent of votes reported.

The race in Maine is drawing national scrutiny because if neither candidate reaches more than 50 percent of the total vote statewide, or in either of the state’s two congressional districts, Maine’s ranked-choice voting protocols will be triggered, making it the first state in the nation to use the weighted voting system in a presidential election.

At stake in the 2nd District is one of Maine’s four Electoral College votes. Unofficial results were still trickling in early Wednesday, but Trump was leading with 52 percent of the vote to Biden’s 45 percent with a nearly 22,000-vote lead. Election results from Bangor, in the heart of the 2nd District and Maine’s third largest city, were still outstanding at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

But Biden won the vote in Lewiston and Auburn, the largest metropolitan area in the 2nd District. That was an improvement over Hillary Clinton’s performance in Maine’s Twin Cities, which split the ticket in 2016 with Auburn voting for Trump and Lewiston voting for Clinton.

Results from other East Coast states where polls closed earlier produced some unsurprising results as the Associated Press began calling winners. All other New England states including, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island were all called for Biden by the Associated Press.

If Biden is able to maintain his trajectory, he is likely to win three of the state’s four Electoral College votes, while Trump would pick up one again for the 2nd District. With 82 percent of the vote totaled, it was too soon to say whether ranked-choice voting would become a factor. If the trajectories for both candidates hold, it is unlikely.

Since July there have been at least 12 public polls in Maine. Biden has held the lead over Trump statewide in all of them by an average of 51.8 percent to 40.2 percent.

And while Biden has also held a polling lead in 10 of 12 polls in the more conservative 2nd Congressional District, his edge going into Election Day was just 1.2 percent. Three third-party candidates on the presidential ticket could erode the frontrunners’ reach in a state where the second-largest voting bloc is made of voters who choose not to enroll in a political party.

If neither Biden nor Trump reaches 50 percent of the vote in that district, ranked-choice voting is triggered. The last-place finisher would be eliminated and those voters’ second-place choice would be counted. That process continues until a candidate reaches the 50 percent threshold and is declared the winner.

The Legislature in 2019 expanded the ranked-choice system to include presidential elections and primaries; all legal challenges to that law failed. Republicans also lost their bid to delay the use of the system with a citizen’s veto referendum question after they failed to garner enough valid signatures to put the measure before voters this year. Had the Republicans succeeded, use of the law would have been postponed until the veto question was settled.

Advocates for ranked-choice voting heralded the system’s use for the first time in a presidential election. They also were watching a statewide referendum question in Massachusetts that would implement a similar law in the Bay State.

“Today the people of Maine made history once again when we ranked our choices for President of the United States,” Cara McCormick Brown, the treasurer of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting said. “No one in our state had any fear that voting for the person they liked the most would spoil the election.”

Trump has visited Maine three times this year, twice last month alone and once in June when he visited a plant in Guilford that manufactures swabs used for COVID-19 testing, fewer than the five stump stops he made in the state in 2016. Surrogates for Trump, including Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s son, Donald Jr., have also visited to rally with supporters, in controversial events where supporters were often unmasked and in close quarters with one another.

Surrogates for Biden, including Biden’s wife, Jill, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren have headlined events for his supporters in the Pine Tree State, but Biden has not visited the state this cycle. Both campaigns focused their visits on the 2nd Congressional District.

Trump’s attention to the state paid off with voters like Heather Bishop, 37, of Bangor. Bishop, a caregiver for the elderly, voted for the first time Tuesday. She said she was motivated to vote for Trump.

“He’s come to Maine,” she said. “He showed up. Where was Biden?” Bishop said she believed Trump’s chances were good in Maine.

“I find he’s a go-getter and he talks like he knows what he’s saying, unlike Biden,” said Bishop, who is not enrolled in any political party.

But Biden voters, especially younger Mainers, said they were backing the Democrat out of concern for the direction of the U.S. “I think I agree with Biden more on steps towards my future,” said Cally Chick, 19, a student at Husson University. Chick, a Democrat, said she also crossed party lines and voted for incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, because her parents were Collins’ supporters.

Staff writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.

 

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