Maine Republicans play Trump card in uphill battle to unseat Angus King

Good morning from Augusta, where Republicans are hoping for a campaign boost from the White House as President Donald Trump‘s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., will visit Portland today for a state GOP fundraising event.

The private event is mostly aimed at a U.S. Senate race, but the fundraising will help Republicans down the ticket. The event is largely aimed at boosting state Sen. Eric Brakey’s run to unseat Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. Democrat Zak Ringelstein of Falmouth is also running. Brakey is seen as a longshot, but he has national connections that have already drawn U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, to Maine as well.  

When the president’s son was in Maine in during the 2016 campaign, he said Republicans who didn’t publicly support the senior Trump — a group that included U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District at that time — were “just protecting themselves and the little environment they’ve created.”

Gov. Paul LePage will also attend the evening reception at the Holiday Inn By The Bay, as will Mark Holbrook, who is running against Democratic 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and independent state Rep. Marty Grohman.

However, neither Poliquin or Republican gubernatorial nominee Shawn Moody, who is running a close race with Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, will be at the event today. Brent Littlefield, a strategist for Moody and Poliquin, cited previously scheduled events and the Trump Jr. event’s focus on Brakey’s race.

But the event could still help them via the party coffers. Tickets for the general event at 6 p.m. go for $100 per person or $175 per couple and there is a preceding private reception starting at $1,500 per person. The Maine Republican Party has been the biggest pro-Moody outside spender so far in the governor’s race.

This election will be a test of how far Poliquin’s district has swung rightward without Trump on the ballot. Since Poliquin won his seat in 2014 after two decades of Democratic control, the 2nd District has swung from Democratic-leaning to Republican-leaning, though his 2018 race with Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden and two independents is still one of two dozen or so that could determine control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

This was underscored by Trump’s 2016 win in the district. Republicans won the district back by wooing voters in the interior of the district, including in greater Lewiston and Auburn and the St. John Valley. Democrats made gains in Hancock and Waldo counties.

Golden is from Lewiston, so he could be well-suited to get some voters back. Poliquin out-polled Trump in the district overall, but he under-polled Trump in some historic manufacturing areas that could go Democratic under the right circumstances. That lasting Trump influence will be a theme come November.

Maine meets TANF work requirement

The LePage administration says the federal government has slashed long-standing penalties hanging over the state around the assistance program. During LePage’s tenure, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program shrunk by 70 percent between 2010 and 2017 because of statutory changes — including a 60-month lifetime limit — and fewer applicants, according to a legislative report.

Among TANF recipients, the federal government requires states to have a work participation rate of at least 50 percent of the overall population and at least 90 percent in two-parent households. The state began meeting both of those standards in the 2016 fiscal year.

In a statement, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said the state was facing a total of $28 million in penalties dating back to 2007 for failing to meet standards, but that the federal government now considers Maine compliant and potential penalties have now been reduced by 90 percent.

Reading list

  • Maine’s senior senator remains a pivotal figure in the intense political battle over the president’s Supreme Court nominee. Sen. Susan Collins on Friday tweeted that she agreed with Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake’s proposal to delay a floor vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to allow the FBI to investigate allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted women when he was in high school and college. Mainers who tried to make their feeling known to Collins were frustrated because the phone system to her office failed, so some showed up Sunday at her Bangor home to make the case that Kavanaugh is a poor choice for the high court. Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski are the only two of 51 Republican senators who have not signaled support for Kavanaugh, meaning that their votes will likely decide the fate of his nomination.
  • It’s a new month and Maine’s three branches of government still haven’t figured out how to implement voter-approved Medicaid expansion. Lawyers for expansion advocates and the LePage administration spent another day in court Friday, presenting their arguments about funding sources and other legal questions to Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy, who is back on the case after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court kicked unresolved questions back to her. Little was decided by the end of those proceedings, but on Friday, expansion proponents withdrew a motion asking Murphy to hold the state in contempt of the high court’s order, which was originally filed because of LePage’s letter asking the federal government to reject the plan. Both sides agreed to submit legal briefs on core issues in the case by mid-October. The sides will likely present arguments to the lower-court judge before she her ruling, and any ruling is likely to go back to the high court later this year.
  • The governor’s ongoing battle with regional workforce boards over how to spend federal dollars continues. Maine Public reports that despite pushback from local officials, the U.S. Department of Labor has approved much of a new state policy requiring Maine’s three regional workforce boards to spend at least 70 percent of their budget on direct job training. The decision, which was announced during a Friday meeting of the Maine State Workforce Board, is the latest twist in a years-long power struggle between LePage and the people who oversee the regional workforce boards.
  • The cost of traveling for cancer treatments intensified the suffering for one Maine woman, whose plight illustrates the problems rural Mainers with cancer face. To undergo treatment for cancer, Allagash resident Margaret McBreairty, an Air Force veteran, made eight-hour trips to Boston every three weeks for five months. She estimated it cost her $1,000, on top of her $2,000 co-pay, for all her trips. Maine’s rural areas generally have both the highest rates of cancer and the fewest resources to treat the disease. Washington County has the highest death rate from cancer in the state, but not a single oncologist practices within its 3,000-plus square miles, according to a September 2017 study conducted for the Maine Cancer Foundation by Market Decisions Research.

Pink plates

Ten years ago today, the secretary of state introduced the pink Maine Breast Cancer Support specialty license plate.

The initial fee is $20 above the regular registration fee. Each renewal costs an additional $15. Proceeds are divided equally between:

  • The breast and cervical health program within the Maine Center for Disease Control, which provides services to underserved people with breast health and breast cancer needs and provide funding for cancer research, education, and patient support programs.
  • The Maine Cancer Foundation, an independent Maine-based organization  dedicated to reducing cancer incidence and mortality rates in Maine.
  • Maine Breast Cancer Coalition’s Support Service Fund, a program dedicated to providing financial support for underserved people with breast health or breast cancer needs in Maine.

If you are not into specialty plates, please consider providing direct support to one of those worthy programs.

At a time when people in the political realm can agree on so little, let’s hope we can all agree that cancer sucks and that we should do whatever we can to help those who are struggling with it, helping people recover from it and doing research to find a cure. Here is your 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.