Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Maine: The Swing State

I was watching the Today show on Tuesday morning when Matt Lauer had a segment with Chris Matthews on the swing states. I was actually able to listen to Matthews instead of launching into a complete screed that my wife would have to endure, but what completely irritated me was the fact that Maine was not gray, indicating a swing state, but a solid blue signifying that it was Democratic. Our state went that way in the last election, but we are definitely a swing state. The president has been here. Laura Bush and the Twins have been here. Even the president’s sister, who happened to stop by my buddy Slubgob’s place, has been here. Edwards has been here and his wife as well. Chris Heinz has even made a stop here in Maine. Tell me we’re not a swing state.

JFK hasn’t been here yet though.

While checking out Slate’s Swingers- A Guide to the Swing States (via Power Line), I came across this write up about Maine. There are definitely two Maines as the article points out. I jokingly say that everything below Augusta is Massachusetts and everything above Old Town is Canada. This statement is not far from the truth.

Thanks to a quirk in its state laws, Maine does not award all its electoral votes (there are four of them) to the presidential candidate who gets the most votes in the state. Instead, the candidate who wins the popular vote gets two electoral votes. The third electoral vote goes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in the 1st Congressional District and the fourth electoral vote to whoever wins the 2nd. In a very close race, the state could split its electoral vote 3-1, which makes Maine the only swing state that can truly swing both ways. (Nebraska, a mortal lock for Bush, has the same system.) Since this convoluted method was adopted in 1969, presidential candidates have never shared Maine's electoral spoils. But in November, Bush and Kerry might.

That's because there are two Maines, as residents hasten to point out. The 1st District stretches along the southern coast, from Kittery to Kennebunkport to Portland (a liberal city rife with bookstores, boutiques, art galleries, and Internet cafes), past the fishing towns and tony summer homes that speckle the long rocky fingers of the coast. Driving through it, you see busy shopping centers, out-of-state cars laden with kayaks and mountain bikes, and antique shops everywhere: Tourism is the state's biggest industry.

The 2nd District, a wooded knob of land that juts up into Canada and across to the state's northern shoreline, is enormous—bigger than New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts combined. It's much more rural, and much poorer, than the southern half of the state. People here are typically loggers, mill workers, or potato farmers. The further north of Portland I went, the more frequently logging trucks lumbered past. In 2000, Gore won comfortably in the 1st District, but his margin of victory in the 2nd was much narrower—only one percentage point, or 5,660 votes. It's quite possible that Bush could swing this district, and if he did, he'd pocket one electoral vote.

I have no doubt that District 1 will go with Kerry. As for us here in District 2, I’m thinking Bush will pull out the win. Not that this is a sure-fire bet, but as I drive the streets of our humble metropolis, I see a lot more Bush/Cheney signs on peoples’ lawns than Kedwards’ signs.

In less than two weeks we’ll see how voting in the Two Maines goes and then NBC can paint us either red or blue on the map. Not until then though.

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