After a convincing Pine Tree State win for Sen. Barack Obama, the fifth consecutive Democratic presidential candidate to prevail in Maine, many analysts wondered Wednesday just how blue the state has become.
“I think at least on the president level, Maine does seem to be a safe blue state,” said Amy Fried, a political scientist at the University of Maine.
“There’s no doubt that Maine has been trending Democratic for probably two decades,” added Mark Brewer, also a UM political science professor. “That being said, I would not compare Maine to Massachusetts or New York or any other very liberal states.”
Obama, on his way to a convincing national victory over McCain, carried 15 of Maine’s 16 counties, according to results compiled by the Bangor Daily News. Only Piscataquis County favored McCain.
Mark Ellis, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, admitted that Sen. Susan Collins’ victory over Democratic challenger Tom Allen might have been the one GOP silver lining of Election Day.
“Maine has been under Democratic control for the past 30-plus years, and it seems like the voters approve of that,” he said. “We do feel good that we built a pretty broad base of volunteers during this cycle, but the challenge will be keeping them engaged.”
The recent dominance for Democratic presidential candidates in Maine could be cyclical. Before 1992, the state picked the Republican in five consecutive elections dating back to 1968.
But Obama, who won Maine with an estimated 58 percent of the popular vote, far outpaced John Kerry’s total of 53.6 percent in 2004 and Al Gore’s 49.1 percent in 2000.
In fact, this election saw only nine states offer more support for Obama than Maine’s 58 percent, including obvious areas such as the senator’s home state of Illinois and his running mate Joe Biden’s state of Delaware. Mainers favored Obama even more than traditionally liberal states such as Washington and Oregon.
“Fifty-eight percent is a higher number than I expected,” Brewer said. “Whether that signifies a Democratic realignment, it’s way too early to tell. Some of those votes could be specific to this candidate or votes against an unpopular president of the opposite party.”
Christian Potholm, a government professor at Bowdoin College and former GOP strategist, thought the Maine numbers might have been artificially high in Obama’s favor.
“There were probably four or five points in there that [Sen. John] McCain could have won if he kept advertising here,” Potholm predicted.
According to exit polls from Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and a consortium of television stations, Obama won the state thanks largely to women and voters under 30.
A survey of about 1,500 Maine voters on Tuesday found that women voted for Obama by a 64 percent to 34 percent, compared to 52 percent to 46 percent among men. Voters between the age of 18 and 29, historically one of the most unreliable demographics in elections, favored Obama 67 percent to 30 percent. Independents or unenrolled voters, which make up the largest percentage of Mainers, also went toward Obama, 60 percent to 36 percent.
Fried said the youth vote in Maine and across the country could have a long-lasting impact for the Democratic Party.
“Voting is habitual,” she said. “Once they start, you can expect the keep those people involved. Also, when people vote in their early years, they tend to stick with the party that got them out in the first place.”
Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan all were able to build coalitions for their respective parties, Fried said.
While most indicators show Maine to be largely Democratic, many voters still showed independence by splitting their ballots for Obama in the presidential race and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in her re-election bid. Exit polls showed that about one-third of Obama supporters in Maine also voted for Collins, and one-third of Collins voters picked Obama.
“Maine has that tradition, and Susan Collins in the kind of Republican who can be successful in Maine,” said Fried. “I didn’t understand all this talk about [vice presidential candidate Sarah] Palin in the 2nd District. Her tone is so partisan and almost the opposite of Collins and Olympia Snowe.”
Potholm disagreed with the assessment of Palin but not about the popularity of Maine’s two Republican senators.
“The Republican Party ought to have Sens. Snowe and Collins give them a tutorial on how to run a campaign,” he said.
Although the final breakdown among voters by Maine’s two congressional districts was not available Wednesday, McCain certainly did better among northern and rural counties. In Penobscot County, he trailed 51 percent to 48 percent, and Washington County, where Obama led narrowly 50 percent to 48 percent.
Maine is one of two states (Nebraska is the other) that splits electoral votes by congressional district, although it hasn’t happened in 40 years since state laws changed.
In 2004, Democrat Kerry won the 1st District by 12 percent and the 2nd District by 6 percent.
The results aside, both major political parties said the level of engagement in 2008 was unprecedented.
“I think the level of enthusiasm is in some ways an effect of the particulars of this election, but Maine always has high turnout,” Fried said. “Certainly, the Obama campaign had a strategy of getting early and absentee votes banked.”
“I think Obama had the best get-out-the-vote machine of any Democratic candidate in recent memory,” he said. “But, I wouldn’t write off Maine for Republicans in the future.”