Trump is still courting Republicans, so he’s in a precarious position in Maine

Every four years, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District gets some attention from the Republican candidate for president.

Polls will show the race tight in that district, and because Maine is one of only two states that splits its electoral votes by congressional district, the second looks like an opportunity.

The same is true this year.

While presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was suffering through a horrendous news week last month as poll after poll showed him trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton both nationally and in swing states, there was a glimmer of hope for him in the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi.

A poll from the Portland Press Herald came out showing a dead heat in the 2nd District, maybe even a slight Trump lead. According to the poll, Trump was favored by 37 percent of likely voters while Clinton had the support of only 36 percent, with 27 percent supporting someone else or undecided.

Keep in mind, the sample size is a bit small, particularly for breaking down voters by congressional district, and Trump’s lead was well within the margin of error. But Trump seized on the good news.

Donald Trump in Bangor last week. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Donald Trump in Bangor last week. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

He brought his traveling circus to Bangor last week and drew a large crowd of several thousand people to the Cross Insurance Center.

The National Rifle Association bought about $50,000 worth of TV advertising in the Bangor media market, which NBC News reported is part of a $2 million ad buy in seven states. Besides Maine, the other states are Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Trump and his allies want to show that this time, really, Maine’s 2nd District is in play. Even so, there were signs of trouble at Trump’s rally. A number of big name Republicans, including 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin, decided to take a pass on the show.

And the NRA ad buy in Maine is small, it started on the Friday before the 4th of July — not exactly the best time to reach TV viewers in Vacationland — and so far it’s scheduled to run only through July 18, when the Republican National Convention starts in Cleveland.

While Clinton and her supporters have a clear aim at the general election in November, the NRA and Trump are still trying to consolidate Republican support.

The Bangor ad features a former Marine who served as a security contractor in Benghazi, which Republicans in Congress have tried desperately and unsuccessfully to turn into a scandal.

The ad is aimed squarely at Republicans, and the timing makes clear this is about rallying members of the GOP base to Trump prior to the convention.

Instead of swing voters or Maine’s large numbers of unenrolled and undecided voters, the ad really is targeting “Never Trump” Republicans.

“A lot of people say they aren’t going to vote this November because their candidate didn’t win. … Hillary as president? No thanks,” the ad says, in part.

Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz won Maine’s GOP caucus earlier this year, largely on the strength of evangelical voters. His campaign then out-organized Trump during the convention to lock down a commanding delegate lead in the state.

The 2nd Congressional District is changing, especially in relation to Maine’s more southern, more liberal and more prosperous 1st District. It’s older and whiter, and it has been badly hurt by global economics that have contributed to the closure of five paper mills in the last three years.

I can understand why political strategists looking at a map might target Maine, hoping to steal an electoral vote from a blue state. After all, proto-Trump Gov. Paul LePage carried the district with a little help from a third-party candidate.

For the record, Trump’s campaign is a toxic stew of bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and anger. Early on in the campaign, I was certain that he’d never win the Republican nomination. I was wrong.

Perhaps Trump and his hateful campaign will prove me wrong again and pull an upset in the 2nd District. If so, it’ll take more than a couple of rallies and a small TV buy in July to get the job done.

But count me as skeptical. I don’t believe that Trump will win in the 2nd District, though the race may be closer than I would like.

Ultimately, Maine voters — the people who have elected the likes of Ed Muskie, Margaret Chase Smith, Bill Cohen and Olympia Snowe — will not vote for a fear-mongering, race-baiting ego-maniac. At least not again.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at