AUGUSTA, Maine — With polling flagging Maine as a potential swing state for the first time in nearly a generation, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine visited the state for a Cape Elizabeth fundraiser on Thursday, saying he was here to “make sure we win” statewide.
The Virginia senator and Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the race against Republican nominee Donald Trump told the Bangor Daily News in a phone interview that Trump is appealing to a “darker, divisive emotion” in the country. Kaine also said he supports the new national monument in Maine’s North Woods and would prioritize shipbuilding if elected.
BDN: Your trip to Maine comes amid tightening polling across the nation and here in Maine. This week, a poll from The Boston Globe showed your campaign up by three points in the state, but down by 10 points in our northern 2nd Congressional District.
This has been a blue state in presidential elections since Bill Clinton in 1992. Are you worried about the campaign’s chances here and does it speak to any wider vulnerability that you and Democrats in general have in rural areas right now?
TK: We would not trade our position now with the other side, so we feel good about where we are. But it is narrow.
The reason that I’m in Maine today is we want to make sure we win, but because of the way you allocate the electoral votes, we really want to do what we can to win CD2, and that’s why Hillary and I have really focused on the first pillar of our campaign, which is an economy that works for everybody.
We do know nationally that the unemployment rate’s been cut in half and 15 million private-sector, new jobs [have been added over 6½ years]. … We also know that there are people around this country, either because of where they live or maybe because of the industry they were trained in, that don’t see the path for themselves to success.
And so that’s why this first pillar of our campaign is an economy that works for all, which includes investments in manufacturing and infrastructure, education and skills training and then a real focus on small business. …
We do understand that we have to make that case, and we need to win that case. We feel like we’ve got a better plan on how to grow the economy for everybody than the other side, which I kind of view their position as a little more winner-take-all, dog-eat-dog. That’s not going to help communities like rural Maine or rural Virginia, for that matter.
BDN: Some of that support for Trump here could be explained as a side effect of economic anxiety. Here, paper mills have closed and many here see it as a result of trade agreements. Clinton helped negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and in the Senate, you voted for fast-track approval and praised parts of the TPP. Both of you later came out against the deal.
What do you say to laid-off millworkers who are fed up and may not be confident in a Clinton administration’s stances on trade?
TK: Trade’s a reality and it’s happening. There’s a lot of Maine businesses that are engaged in trade just like there are a lot of Virginia businesses that are engaged in trade.
Our position was pretty similar, which is we wanted the president to have tools to negotiate the best deal possible, but we reserved the right to determine whether the deal was good enough. In this instance, the TPP, when it was finally done, just doesn’t meet our standard for a trade deal we should do.
The standard is: Does it increase American jobs, does it increase wages and does it advance our national security? And in too many areas, especially in the enforceability of the provisions, it’s just not sufficient.
So, we don’t want to hamper Maine businesses that have customers overseas; we want them to find customers overseas. But we should only go into deals if they really advance the needs of the American economy, and Hillary and I both believe that.
BDN: Our Republican governor, Paul LePage, is a Trump endorser, and they’re stylistically similar. When Trump was here in August, he invoked our Somali population while discussing his plan to halt immigration from certain places. LePage recently kicked off a huge controversy saying Maine’s drug dealers are nearly all black or Hispanic.
Why is this sort of politics having a moment right now nationally, and what’s the best response to it? Was Clinton’s comment that half of Trump’s supporters are in a “basket of deplorables” helpful in that regard?
TK: Here’s the difference between the two campaigns: Our campaign motto is “Stronger Together.” We’re stronger together as a nation when we allow everybody at the table to help solve the challenges we have. There’s no challenge that we can’t solve — either at home or abroad — and that is not only about an economy, but that’s also even about national security and a need to have alliances. We’re stronger when we have them.
We reject divisive language. We reject pointing fingers at each other, blaming each other and that’s a real difference. Donald Trump is entitled to run the campaign that he wants to run. He thinks it’s OK to make fun of a reporter with a disability. He thinks it’s OK to … demean people because they’re Mexican-American.
There’s always been, in campaigns all over the country and probably all over the world, candidates who kind of appeal to the darker, divisive emotion. This is not new, it’s just that we don’t think those are the values that are winning values for our country.
I’ve been talking about this a lot: It really tells you something when the book that Hillary Clinton wrote about her campaign and her policies is titled “Stronger Together,” and the book that Donald Trump wrote … is called “Crippled America.” I don’t look at America as a crippled America, I look at America as a stronger-together place. It’s that fundamentally different vision that I think in some ways is the starkest difference in the campaign.
BDN: Last month, President Barack Obama designated the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine’s North Woods, an idea that many in that area had been resisting for years. Is that something your campaign supports, and how would a President Clinton wield her power under the Antiquities Act?
TK: It is something that I support, yes. I worked very hard with the president using the Antiquities Act for an important project in Virginia, which was the designation of Fort Monroe, which is a historic property. It’s where African slaves first landed … before they came to Jamestown in 1619. … But it’s also, ironically, the place where emancipation of slaves began in the Civil War.
… When you use the act to make the designation, you need to do a lot of due diligence with local stakeholders and others. You need to think about the needs of future generations and the fact that we want our kids and grandkids to have access to these beautiful sites where they can be restored and energized and they can see it as it was at the beginning of time in some ways.
So, when it’s a very, very special place and you work with stakeholders, I think the use of the Antiquities Act — whether it’s for a built structure like a fort or it’s for a beautiful natural landscape like Katahdin Waters — is appropriate.
BDN: Shipbuilding is a vital issue here, with more than 6,000 people working at Bath Iron Works, a key defense contractor. Just today, it lost out on an $11 billion Coast Guard cutter contract, which could result in 1,200 layoffs. Would a Clinton administration stay the course on shipbuilding, particularly when it comes to the Navy and Coast Guard?
TK: I am on the Armed Services Committee and I’m on the Seapower Subcommittee, and shipbuilding is a huge priority for me. We have a shipyard in Newport News that builds nuclear aircraft carriers and subs, so I’m very focused on shipbuilding.
Sen. [Angus] King, [a Maine independent], and I went to India a few years ago [in 2014] to visit their shipbuilding industry in Mumbai and try to encourage them to do more joint projects with American shipyards. We’re happy to say that there is now a growing partnership between Indian shipbuilding and American shipyards where they’re willing to let us do some work for them.
This is a very important priority. For for the defense of a nation, you need ships. The way I put it is: A base is fixed force; a ship is flexible force. What we really need for the defense of a nation now is flexible force because you need to be able to move a military asset here or there depending upon what the circumstances are.
So, yeah, I’m going be very focused on shipbuilding in a Clinton-Kaine administration.
The transcript is lightly edited for clarity.