A tale of two Maines: Rural Trump voters wanted 'change'

CORINTH, Maine (The Associated Press/Marina Villeneuve) — Minutes before setting off on a deer-hunting trip in East Corinth, Maison Goodrich said it was pretty funny that the mainstream media describe Donald Trump's election as an "upset."

Goodrich sat at a local coffee shop, laughing with a group of men decked in blaze orange shirts about elite media's failure to see Trump's widespread support in communities roiled by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Trump's victory made history in Maine, the nation's whitest state, where the more rural 2nd Congressional District sent one electoral vote to Trump.

"It was not an upset," Goodrich said. "When the media says the election was an upset, it's a ploy because the polls are so incorrect."

In New England's sprawling northernmost state, there's long been the idea of two Maines: the hearty, northern "real Maine" that's protective of traditions like hunting, and the urban, coastal region that Republican Gov. Paul LePage refers to as Northern Massachusetts.

But no election, and no Republican before the anti-establishment Trump, has so captured Maine's 2nd Congressional district, the vast district encompassing land north of Augusta and Portland. Trump won by 11 percentage points in the district - a shift from 2012, when Obama won by 15 percentage points statewide.

Clinton found support in southern, coastal Maine and picked up a smattering of inland towns in the 2nd Congressional District, which has embraced the Republican Party in recent years by electing two businessmen-turned-politicians: LePage in 2010 and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2014 and this year.

Rural voters also sent a resounding "No!" to a failed ballot measure that would have required background checks for private firearm sales and also transfers. Towns in the 2nd Congressional District voted an average 70 percent against the referendum, with critics decrying it as overreach symbolic of an out-of-touch, liberal government.

Inland communities were less likely to support successful ballot questions increasing the minimum wage and having voters rank candidates.

Trump saw some of his biggest Northeast support from Maine communities like Corinth, a town outside of Bangor with a population of 2,800. The town, which has 369 Democrats, 827 Republicans and 671 unenrolled voters, gave him 71 percent of its vote.

That's compared with 19 percent in Portland, and 31 percent in Brunswick.

"I think things are bad enough that people wanted a change," said Maison's brother, Richard Goodrich, who lives in Holden. He cited a "movement" of rural, working class voters upset by the loss over the years of textile, shoe and paper manufacturing jobs.

It's an economic reality not as keenly felt in Maine's urban south, where a service-based economy has grown in a post-industrial era. Some northern communities have seen unemployment as high as 20 percent in recent years - even as the state's unemployment rate dropped.

"In some ways, the Trump campaign reflected those two Maines. He was appealing to the people who felt that they were ignored," said Sandy Maisel, professor of government at Colby College.

In general, political candidates who've managed to appeal to both Maines were centrists, like Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and former Sen. Olympia Snowe.

As retired financial adviser and Clinton supporter Larry Towle poured detergent at a laundromat in Corinth, he mused that rural Maine saw in LePage an "intemperate nature that spoke to them."

"He says what he thinks!" interjected Trump supporter Brian Thompson, as he repaired a laundry machine.

LePage, who frequently likens himself to Trump, has harped on Washington, D.C. and "coastal" elites whom he says harms northern Maine's economy by lobbying for regulations and a national park. And as the state slowly grows more diverse, LePage has blamed the opioid crisis on minority traffickers and says drug dealers are impregnating white women.

One 2nd Congressional District resident said foreigners shouldn't get jobs over "Americans," and another said he didn't vote for Clinton because she's a woman.

But it's creating jobs and cutting welfare - trumpeted by both LePage and Trump - that's attracted voters like Corinth resident Nancy Harper. She voted for Obama in 2008 but feeling disappointed, voted Republican in 2012.

She said she worries about Trump's stance on women's rights and his demeanor, but Clinton seemed too corrupt: "That whole Clinton Foundation thing."

Richard Goodrich said if Trump fulfills promises like rebooting the military and helping veterans, his supporters will be happy.

"If not, he'll be a four-year president," Goodrich said.

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Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press


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