How Trump could help decide who wins control of the Maine Senate

Good morning from Augusta, where new sexual assault allegations against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee and confusion about the job status of the deputy attorney general got us thinking about where the president is most and least popular in Maine.

We sorted the results of the 2016 presidential election between Trump, a Republican, and Democrat Hillary Clinton by Maine Senate district. It reveals some parallels to national polling showing that under Trump, Republicans are increasingly struggling in suburban areas that they have held in the past.

Maine is lukewarm on Trump as a whole. A recent poll from Suffolk University found a 41 percent approval rating for the president here, which effectively matched past polls from Morning Consult that put the state near the middle of the pack nationally on Trump.

The subtle divisions in his approval could be a key factor in elections here. Some of the most interesting ones come when thinking about control of the Maine Senate, which is controlled by Republicans who hold just a 18-17 lead on Democrats. The smallest switch could flip it.

There are eight districts where Trump won a majority of votes. The one where he was most popular is held by a Democrat. Trump, who won the 2nd Congressional District but lost Maine at large to Clinton, only won majorities in eight of Maine’s 35 Senate districts.

Seven of those seats are held by Republicans — except the one where Trump won biggest. That’s the one held by Sen. Michael Carpenter of Houlton. It’s the state’s most Republican seat by party affiliation, though he’s a unique figure who once served as Maine’s attorney general. He’ll be contested this year by businesswoman Karen Reynolds of Fort Fairfield.

There aren’t many more races that are expected to be heavily contested among this group, though one to watch is a challenge from Brewer City Councilor Bev Uhlenhake, a Democrat, against Sen. Kim Rosen, R-Bucksport, in a district where Trump won a narrow majority. Rosen is probably favored, but she’ll have to fight for her seat after running unopposed in 2016.

Democrats could flip two Republican seats in particular that were unfriendly to Trump. Two Republican seats in particular are in danger and Trump’s results in those areas look like a major reason why.

The best example of this is the seat held by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Amy Volk, R-Scarborough. Trump got less than 39 percent of votes in the towns in her district, though she won big there in 2016. However, it’s now a priority race for Democrats and Volk is being challenged by former state Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham.

The other one is in Hancock County, where Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, is term-limited. State Reps. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, and Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, are squaring off for the seat in a district where less than 40 percent of people backed Trump.

Outside spending goes above $3.4 million in Maine races

Nearly $3 million of that has been in the governor’s race since the primaries, with the Maine Republican Party buying ads against the Democratic nominee on Friday. Republicans have been outgunned so far in spending in the race to replace Gov. Paul LePage by Democratic interests, with two groups alone — one linked to the Democratic Governors Association and the other an offshoot of the super PAC Priorities USA Action — spending $1.7 million alone so far in the governor’s race.

The Maine Republican Party has been the sole outside group fighting back for gubernatorial nominee Shawn Moody so far, spending more than $508,000. That includes a new, $133,000 round of ads against Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic nominee, on Friday.

The candidates face one of the last fundraising deadlines of the race today. By midnight, candidates in gubernatorial and legislative races will have to report money raised and spent between July 18 and Sept. 18. It will be our last look at the campaign books for a month.

At the last deadline, Mills had raised more money than Moody, but he had more left. The four candidates — including the two independents, State Treasurer Terry Hayes and Alan Caron — had spent $2.6 million by mid-July.

Reading list

  • Demonstrations against the president’s Supreme Court nominee intensified as new allegations of sexual misconduct emerged. Protesters gathered outside the Portland and Washington, D.C., offices of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins as new allegations against Brett Kavanaugh became public. In Maine’s largest city, sexual assault survivors urged Collins, one or two Republicans who has not already endorsed Kavanaugh, to vote against his confirmation. In the nation’s capital, police arrested dozens of demonstrators outside Collins’ office on Monday. U.S. Capitol Police said officers removed 46 protesters from the Dirksen Senate Office Building — where the Maine senator’s office is — and 82 more were removed from another Senate office building and charged with obstruction. Christine Blasey Ford will testify to a Senate committee on Thursday about her alleged assault by Kavanaugh. A second woman told the New Yorker that he had thrust his genitals in her face during a party decades ago. Kavanaugh denies all allegations, as Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lead an aggressive campaign to secure the votes needed to confirm him.
  • A Republican candidate for district attorney in three western Maine counties suffered a setback in court. A judge ruled Friday that Seth Carey is more likely than not to have assaulted and had illegal sexual contact with a woman who rented a room in his Rumford home last year. The decision in a disciplinary proceeding comes weeks before voters will see his name on ballots as the Republican nominee in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties. The party is not supporting him in the race against against incumbent Democrat Andrew Robinson. Carey’s law license has been suspended since the spring, when a judge granted a protective order to the woman who accused him of sexual abuse. The group that oversees the conduct of Maine lawyers is seeking to have Carey disbarred, an outcome that would disqualify him from serving as district attorney.
  • Meanwhile, candidates in another district attorney’s race are sparring over whether the incumbent can fill a job opening in his office. Steve Juskewitch, an independent who is challenging incumbent Republican Matthew Foster, asked Hancock County commissioners to stall Foster’s plans to fill a clerical position until after the November election. Foster was not amused, saying he needs staff to be in place now. Commissioners rejected the request.
  • A nasty divorce involving a former Trump speechwriter who previously worked for Maine’s governor seems headed back to court. David Sorensen’s ex-wife has countersued the former aide to Gov. Paul LePage, saying she will prove in court that her abuse allegations are true. Sorensen, 33, of Barnstable, Massachusetts, in April sued Jessica Corbett, 32, of Portland in Massachusetts Superior Court seeking $4 million in a defamation lawsuit. Sorensen filed the complaint himself but has since hired an attorney. The couple divorced on October 2017 after three years of marriage.

Mascot madness

The NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers unveiled their new mascot on Monday. The 7-foot-tall, scraggly orange creature named Gritty did not exactly inspire fealty among Philly fans.

Fans took to Twitter to explain how much Gritty grated on them. One called him “a horrifying orange mountain creature that radiates manic energy and has a backstory that definitely implies he was abused by his father.” Another suggested that “Gritty is the street name his meth dealer gave him,” while a third fan posited that Gritty is the deadbeat dad of Animal, beloved Muppet drummer for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Let’s stop right here for an Animal soundtrack.

A slightly more upbeat theory holds that Gritty is a “sentient ZZ Top beard.” But that could be just plain unhealthy, according to a deep dive by WGME. Time for another soundtrack.

Regardless, it made me think that Maine’s campaign season would be a lot more colorful if candidates had mascots. We should move beyond the standard donkeys and elephants and come up with mascots for individual candidates. For instance, I’ve always thought the narwhal is vastly underutilized as a mascot. What better way for a candidate to convince voters that she or he can point the state in the right direction or make their point in Washington?

We welcome your suggestions for this year’s Maine candidate mascots. In the meantime, here is your official soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.