BANGOR, Maine — A new poll indicates that Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. Susan Collins continue to widen already sizable leads in their respective races, potentially setting the stage for a split ticket in Maine.
Members of Maine’s two major parties, meanwhile, were busy rallying voters on the streets, on the phone and over the airwaves this past weekend during the final push to Tuesday’s historic election.
Obama held a commanding, 20-point lead over Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona in SurveyUSA’s final pre-election poll of roughly 675 likely voters from Maine. SurveyUSA’s last poll, released Oct. 21, showed Obama with a 15-point advantage over McCain.
Another polling firm, Market Decisions, gave Obama a 19-point lead over McCain in Maine last week.
In the race for U.S. Senate, Collins was leading her Democratic challenger, Rep. Tom Allen, by 14 percentage points in the most recent poll. That is up from an 11-point advantage for Collins in SurveyUSA’s Oct. 21 poll. Two other recent statewide surveys have put Collins up by 12 and 17 points.
The SurveyUSA poll was conducted for WCSH-TV Portland and WLBZ-TV Bangor and had a margin of error of 3.8 percent.
Collins spent much of the weekend campaigning in Washington County, while Allen spent Saturday and Sunday courting voters in southern Maine, which he has represented in Congress for the past 12 years.
Despite the numbers, neither Democratic nor Republican faithful showed any sign of slowing down.
Armies of volunteers from both major parties were running at full tilt all weekend, knocking on doors, calling registered voters and handing out campaign materials.
On Saturday, the Democratic headquarters in downtown Bangor was bustling as dozens of people were rallying support for Obama, Allen, 2nd Congressional District Rep. Mike Michaud and other Democrats.
Volunteers Vicky Blanchette and Bridgette Chalila were buzzing with excitement from the kind of moment that fuels political volunteers on both sides of the aisle in the latter days of a long campaign.
The pair were wrapping up their canvassing when they stopped to talk to a man walking his dog down a Bangor street. The man, who was in his 50s, had never before voted but had liked what he heard from Sen. Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary.
After a bit of talking, Chalila and Blanchette convinced the man to ride with them to the Bangor Civic Center. There, he joined the thousands of others who have cast early ballots.
“He registered and he voted for the very first time today,” said Chalila, still beaming about the encounter more than an hour later.
Chalila, a 35-year-old Bangor resident, said she has been involved in political campaigns since childhood but has never experienced anything like the excitement and organization surrounding Obama. Both she and Blanchette, 43, described this election as pivotal, saying the Obama-Biden ticket could lead the country in a new direction economically, socially and on international relations.
But Maine campaigners are heeding Obama’s warning not to get overconfident despite their candidate’s lead in the polls, they said.
“We’re just not letting up,” Blanchette said.
Of course, neither were their counterparts across town.
“Tuesday night, we are going to be celebrating,” predicted Shelley Wirth, one of several Republican volunteers making phone calls and doing other campaign work at the GOP campaign headquarters in Bangor on Sunday.
A retiree, Wirth travels to Bangor from her home in Medway every day to help out on the campaigns. The Wirths are a military family: Her husband is a career military man, a son is in Afghanistan right now, and a second son just returned from his second tour in Iraq.
Wirth, who herself is former military, was as adamant in her belief that McCain is the only option as Chalila and Blanchette were in their beliefs about Obama. She said McCain has the military background the country needs as well as the experience and know-how to reverse the economic turmoil.
Wirth walked into the McCain office in the summer planning to volunteer on occasion.
“Now I come down every day,” she said. “It’s that important. And the closer it gets, the more important it becomes.”
With so much interest in the election, many people on both sides are predicting record turnout at the polls on Tuesday. And if Bangor’s early-voting turnout is any indication, they won’t likely be disappointed.
Roughly 1,000 people a day visited the Bangor Civic Center during the past week to cast early votes in the state and national election, according to city officials.