The Maine Event

By Jim Ellis

Maine Congressional Districts

May 20, 2020 — The small state of Maine, with its two congressional districts, is going to attract a great deal of political attention between now and the election. Not only is the Pine Tree State one of the firewalls for Republican Senate majority hopes, the domain, one of two places that splits its electoral votes, will likely play a major role in determining the presidential election outcome, as well.

Maine and Nebraska divide their electoral votes such that the winning statewide candidate earns two electoral votes, while the victor in each congressional district is awarded one EV for as many districts as they carry. Maine, as mentioned, has two districts, and Nebraska three.

These districts came into play both in 2008 and 2016, when Barack Obama carried the 2nd District of Nebraska against John McCain in the former year, and Donald Trump took the 2nd District of Maine opposite Hillary Clinton in 2016. While neither CD became a factor in determining each of those elections, these CDs breaking differently than their state in a tight national election could result in the Electoral College ending in a tie.

The 48 other states and the District of Columbia use the winner-take-all system. Any state could divide their electoral votes like Maine and Nebraska, but those are the only two who choose the split vote method.

In the current presidential election scenarios, whether or not President Trump again carries ME-2 could determine if he is re-elected. Under one scenario, former vice president Joe Biden could win the national race even if he failed to carry Wisconsin so long as he takes the 2nd District of Maine and 2nd District of Nebraska. Doing so, along with winning the other swing states that touch a Great Lake, meaning Michigan and Pennsylvania, he would secure exactly 270 electoral votes, the bare minimum to claim national victory.

Another potential scenario would favor President Trump; should he carry the 2nd District with a greater margin than Biden wins the 1st District, then the former would gain an additional two electoral votes for winning the state, and that could well be the difference in the national vote. In a two-district state that splits its electoral votes, whichever candidate wins his or her CD by the greater margin also wins the statewide vote.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried the 1st District, the southern domain that includes the cities and towns of Portland, Biddeford, Augusta, York-Wells-Kennebunk, and Waterville, with a margin of 58,390 votes. President Trump took the northern 2nd District that houses Lewiston-Auburn, Bar Harbor, Bangor, all the area west to New Hampshire, and far north to the Canadian border. His ME-2 spread was 36,360, meaning Clinton carried the statewide total by 22,030 votes.

Therefore, for President Trump to turnaround the aggregate vote and gain an extra two electoral votes, he will need to decrease significantly his margin of defeat in the 1st District and substantially inflate his victory margin in CD-2.

The other major race on the Maine ballot is Sen. Susan Collins’ (R) re-election campaign. The way the national Senate map is unfolding, the GOP holds the majority if they win the three firewall states of Iowa, Maine, and Montana, while converting Alabama. This assumes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds Kentucky and Kansas comes off the competitive board because the stronger GOP candidate wins the Republican primary in August.

Therefore, Maine is a critically important state to the national outcome. Money is already flying in the Senate race. Consensus Democratic candidate Sara Gideon, the state House Speaker, had already raised almost $14.9 million and had $4.6 million in the bank at the end of March. Sen. Collins posted campaign receipts of $13.3 million and held a 20-plus percent greater cash-on-hand figure of $5.6 million.

Together, both candidates had already spent in excess of $18.7 million at the March 31 financial disclosure deadline, not counting outside expenditures that have already been present in the state. This, in a place where a total of just under 772,000 people voted in the last presidential election.

If the spending pace continues, and it will clearly pick up as the candidates move toward Election Day, it is conceivable that more than $80 million could be spent in the small state, meaning more than $100 for every voter. Regardless of who spends a bit more, both candidates are going to have an abundant amount of resources to effectively communicate their campaign message.

We can also expect a lot more in the way of polling. In 2019, three public polls were conducted, and Sen. Collins finished in the low 50s with Gideon posting numbers that did not exceed 35 percent.

This year, two polls have accessed the public domain, from local Colby College and Public Policy Polling. Both found Gideon taking a slight lead with each candidate in the 40s (Colby found Gideon ahead by one; PPP up four, but both within the polling margin of error). Clearly, the current momentum favors Gideon. It is still important to remember, however, that Sen. Collins received 67 percent of the vote the last time she was on the ballot. So, this race is far from decided.

Maine may be a small state tucked in a geographic corner of the country, but their voting populace will carry a big wallop come this November.

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