A Maine polling outfit shares a look at what could happen on Election Day

Good morning from Augusta, where another day brings another poll. A new tracking poll by Portland-based Critical Insights, which has polled Mainers twice annually for 21 years, zeroed in on the four referendum questions on the Nov. 7 ballot — and the results seem pretty clear.

A York County casino proposed in Question 1 seems to have an uphill climb. Forty-nine percent of respondents to the poll said they’d vote “no,” though 11 percent said they were undecided. Support was even at about 40 percent in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts.

Approval of Medicaid expansion looks likely, according to the poll. Support for a “yes” vote on Question 2 was held by 69 percent of the poll’s respondents.

The transportation bond proposed in Question 3 will pass, just like they all do in Maine. Mainers have never said no to bonding for transportation infrastructure, which constitutes much of the Maine Department of Transportation’s maintenance budget. The poll found 68 percent of respondents support the $105 million bond proposal.

Mainers appear confused about Question 4. It would amend the Maine Constitution to double the amortization period for the Maine Public Employees Retirement System’s investment pool to recover from dips in the investment markets. Proponents — and we haven’t heard from opponents — argue that the change from 10 years to 20 years would stabilize the state’s year-to-year contributions. The poll found 34 percent of respondents favor the concept. But even more, 39 percent, said they were unsure of how they will vote.

But referendums have a way of tightening late and this is only one poll. The October poll surveyed 609 people with an error margin of 4 percent. By the morning of Election Day 2016, our cautious guess from polling was that all five referendums could pass. But a gun background check referendum went down and two other recounts were requested. That’s our caution that the votes on the first three questions will likely be tighter than the polling results above come Tuesday. We’d also like to compare this to another public poll, but we don’t have one.

Republicans fan ethics claims against Question 2 backers in campaign’s last days

A group backing Medicaid expansion pulled a Facebook ad after a Machias hospital complained that the ad used its likeness. Down East Community Hospital released a statement on Tuesday saying that an ad from Maine Equal Justice Partners using the hospital’s logo was “misleading and unethical.” David Farmer, a spokesman for Mainers for Health Care, the pro-expansion coalition that includes Maine Equal Justice Partners, said the ad was taken down after the hospital registered concerns and that making it look like it came from the hospital was “not the intent.” Brent Littlefield, Gov. Paul LePage’s political adviser and spokesman for the anti-expansion Welfare to Work PAC, called it an example of “false political ads promoting Question 2.”

And the Maine Republican Party requested an investigation into another pro-expansion group that called it a distraction. The Maine Republican Party issued a press release on Wednesday saying the progressive Maine People’s Alliance “illegally” gathered signatures for the pro-expansion referendum and asking Attorney General Janet Mills to investigate. At issue is a section of Maine law that makes a “business entity” register with the secretary of state’s office before collecting signatures. Petitions were certified by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap in February. Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski said the office was alerted in August that the Maine People’s Alliance didn’t register and they ended up filing on Aug. 29. But she said submission of the registration doesn’t affect certification. There’s also a question about whether the Maine People’s Alliance would have to register, since it’s a nonprofit. Mike Tipping, a spokesman for the group, said they filed “as a helpful thing” for Dunlap and that Republicans are trying to “distract” from expansion’s merits.

These aren’t the first squabbles around messaging. Last month, the AARP — which hasn’t taken a position on expansion — called a Welfare to Work PAC ad’s claims that expansion would take state resources away from nursing homes “false.” Proponents have highlighted that and there will be more squabbling to come between now and Tuesday.

Leftovers from the Critical Insights poll

The Critical Insights poll also asked about moods toward some of Maine’s elected officials. Here are some takeaways:

  • Forty-one percent of voters approve of LePage. That’s an improvement from 32 percent who favored him in Critical Insights’ poll last fall.
  • Approval of the Maine Legislature is low — 35 percent to be exact.
  • U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ job approval has improved since last fall, from 51 percent to 58 percent for the Republican. Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King’s rating has risen from 42 percent last fall to 53 percent.
  • U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, has an approval rating of 44 percent, with 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, registered at 30 percent support.

Reading list

  • Collins says President Donald Trump wasn’t the only target of Russians trying to interfere in American politics. Among many targets, Collins said during Senate Intelligence Committee hearings Wednesday, was LePage. King, who serves on the committee with Collins, said there should be penalties for foreign countries for activities like these.
  • LePage is calling for patience with utility work crews and said he won’t call in the National Guard. That’s because, according to LePage, professional lineworkers are “far better trained” for the work at hand. LePage on Wednesday surveyed damage in the Bath-Brunswick region, which was hit hard by the storm and power outages.
  • LePage is scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., today to testify on one of Pingree’s bills. The Democrat from Maine’s 1st District has submitted a proposal to establish a grant program expanding access to coastal waters for commercial fishing, recreational guiding, aquaculture, boat building and other business uses. It’s unclear what LePage will say but he appears on a witness list published by the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. This is LePage’s second trip to the nation’s capital this week and his third in the past two weeks.
  • Pingree is on the attack against the “Codfather.” Pingree said Wednesday that Carlos Rafael, a Massachusetts man who has pleaded guilty to money laundering and falsifying records to evade fishing quotas, should be charged under additional laws designed to stop illegal trade in animals and plants. Rafael was sentenced to nearly four years in prison in September.
  • Mainers are being urged to sign up for Obamacare. The enrollment window opened Wednesday and runs through Dec. 15. Enrollments are moving forward despite uncertainty around health care at the federal level, including some Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace it.

When political operatives email each other about reporters

It’s always fun to read emails about yourself that weren’t intended for you, right? That happened to me on Wednesday, when the Maine Ethics Commission posted a ream of exhibits related to its investigation of Question 1 backers.

Back in January, I was writing this story about Shawn Scott, the effort’s chief backer, so I sent a list of questions to Cheryl Timberlake, the treasurer of a political committee run by Lisa Scott, Shawn Scott’s sister. Timberlake forwarded it to Lisa Scott, who came up with some answers.

“It would be great if you would call the reporter 30 mins before his deadline apologizing for the delayed response,” Lisa Scott wrote a day later, “but that you could read to him my responses to his questions.”

I got the responses a day later, after the deadline I asked for and via email, but things worked out. No complaints. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.