BANGOR, Maine — Republican Paul LePage is drawing his strength from the northern part of the state, according to a new poll that shows the GOP candidate holding his lead in the race for the Blaine House with just two weeks before Election Day.
The poll, released Tuesday to the Bangor Daily News by the Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group, found that 33 percent of likely Maine voters favored LePage, the conservative Waterville mayor and tea party favorite. Democrat Libby Mitchell, at 28 percent, was within the poll’s margin of error, followed by the leading independent candidate, Eliot Cutler, at 14 percent. About 20 percent of voters remained undecided, with the two other independent candidates – Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott – combining for about 5 percent.
The survey of 501 likely Maine voters was conducted between Oct. 11 and 15. It has a margin of error of 4.4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
In the more conservative northern congressional district, which includes Lewiston and Bangor, LePage is favored by 36 percent of voters with Mitchell trailing by 10 points. LePage and Mitchell essentially are deadlocked in the southern congressional district, each with 30 percent of the vote.
Patrick Murphy, president of the Pan Atlantic SMS Group, said the pronounced economic hardships in the 2nd Congressional District help explain the divide.
“People don’t feel as good about things,” Murphy said, citing the continued loss of manufacturing jobs in northern Maine. “[LePage] is a candidate for people who aren’t feeling so good or who are angry with government.”
Mitchell, the longtime lawmaker and current Senate president, was in the heart of the 2nd District Tuesday, with stops in Bangor and Indian Island.
Mitchell’s chief spokesman, Jesse Connolly, said the Pan Atlantic survey reinforces that the race is between LePage and Mitchell.
“Clearly this poll shows that this is a two-person race, with Mitchell within striking distance,” Connolly said on Tuesday, the same day another daily newspaper took the unusual step of reporting the results of the Cutler campaign’s internal poll, which showed the independent among the race leaders. “Clearly she is the only one who can beat Paul LePage.”
LePage spent his Tuesday in the Portland area at fundraising events — including one with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, according to his spokesman. Dan Demeritt said he was pleased with LePage’s consistent showings in recent polls, which generally have shown LePage leading the race.
“People are fed up and ready for change,” Demeritt said. “Our supporters are committed to vote, and the results of the poll show that.”
The intensity of the Republican vote is likely to play a role in the Nov. 2 outcome, Murphy said.
Nearly 81 percent of LePage supporters say they would absolutely, or were very certain to, vote for him. LePage was favored by 63 percent of Republicans with Cutler taking 10 percent and Mitchell 6 percent. Seventeen percent of Republican voters were undecided.
Mitchell supporters also demonstrated a relatively high level of intensity with 78 percent saying they would absolutely, or were very certain to, vote for her. Mitchell was pulling 55 percent of Democrats with 15 percent going to the Democrat-turned-independent Cutler and just 8 percent favoring LePage. Seventeen percent of Democrats were undecided.
Independent voters were scattered among the three leading candidates, with LePage pulling 29 percent to Mitchell’s 21 percent and Cutler’s 20 percent.
Roughly one-quarter of independent voters remained undecided this late in the campaign. That’s a possible sign of Election Day apathy, the pollster said.
“I don’t think the independents are very excited about anybody,” said Murphy, who contrasted the race with the 1994 bid of independent Angus King, whose support among the state’s nonparty voters already had been shored up at this stage in the campaign. “I wonder if they’re not just going to sit it out.”
But Cutler’s campaign manager Ted O’Meara said the poll was dated and did not reflect the race’s most recent turns — including the Cutler campaign’s heavy television advertising and the endorsement of the Bangor Daily News.
“We believe most of the undecideds are breaking his way, and now realize they do have a real, viable alternative,” O’Meara said.
Among the poll’s other findings:
• In the 1st Congressional District, Democrat Chellie Pingree led her Republican opponent, Dean Scontras, 49 percent to 33 percent, with 18 percent still undecided.
• In the 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Mike Michaud led Republican Jason Levesque 49 percent to 29 percent, with 22 percent undecided.
• Likely voters would narrowly back a casino in Oxford County, with 49 percent saying they would support Question 1 on the Nov. 2 ballot and 45 percent opposed. Only 6 percent were undecided.
• Fifty-six percent of voters favored a $9.8 million conservation bond, with 35 percent opposed.
The margins of error were higher in the congressional races because of smaller sample sizes.
For a complete report of this poll, click here.
Latest statewide poll:
1st Congressional District
2nd Congressional District
Oxford County Casino
Source: Pan Atlantic SMS Group, Oct. 11-15; 4.4% margin of error