Maine voters have chosen a Republican for governor two straight elections and last fall picked a Republican to represent the 2nd Congressional District. The GOP broke Democrats’ three-decade-long grip on the Maine Legislature to take majorities in both chambers in 2010, and currently holds a five-seat advantage in the senate.
It’s been almost 10 years since a Maine Democrat has won a statewide election.
Yet, when it comes to presidential elections, the state has been reliably blue.
The last Republican presidential candidate to win Maine and its four electoral college votes was summer resident George H. W. Bush in 1988.
Current Democratic President Barack Obama won the state convincingly in both 2008 and 2012, despite the aforementioned ground given up by his party in other high-profile races. The University of Virginia Center for Politics counted Maine as a “safe” Democratic state in its map of potential battleground states for the upcoming presidential vote, the bluest designation the group could give it.
So what would it take for the GOP to break through and turn Maine red in the 2016 presidential election?
FiveThirtyEight, known for its prescient data analyses in the field of sports as well as politics, has developed an interactive display that allows users to see different possible outcomes by experimenting with voter turnout and party numbers.
The program shows users how voters in a range of demographics voted in the last presidential election, and allows users to manipulate those numbers to see how much they’d have to change to flip states one way or the other in 2016.
Maine is predominantly — 95 percent, to be more specific — white. According to the FiveThirtyEight program, even if every single black, Latino, Hispanic and Asian voter in the state of Maine turned out and voted Republican in 2016, it wouldn’t be enough to turn the state red.
So what would need to change among white voters?
Assuming turnout percentages remain the same, Maine would go red if 68 percent of the state’s college-educated whites voted Republican, or if 74 percent of the state’s non-college-educated whites voted Republican — or, in what would perhaps be a more likely scenario, some much lesser increase in each group that added up to a larger combined total.
Of course, these are just demographics numbers. What it would take in terms of political messages to win over Mainers and make the needle move in one direction or another is entirely up for speculation.
What the program can’t predict is which candidates will win in the party primaries — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders are the top two in the Democratic field, while businessman Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson lead the pack on the Republican side — and what kinds of campaigns they’ll run.
And with only four electoral college votes to offer the victor, it’s likely candidates in both parties will instead focus their energies on wooing voters in toss-up states with bigger payoffs, like Florida (worth 29 electoral college votes) and Ohio (18).