PORTLAND, Maine — In Maine’s largest cities, college campuses and quiet downtown bars, it was hard to find enthusiasm for either candidate as the state’s voters watched the third presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
Reactions tilted toward the blase with flashes of incredulity as viewers alternately stared at televisions broadcasting the debate from Las Vegas or turned away in search of relief from the squabbling.
On Congress Street in Portland, at a Bangor Daily News debate watch party, extreme measures were taken to ensure some measure of tranquility.
Kelley McDaniel of Portland said she was “glad there are kittens,” referring to the eight therapy kittens from the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland at the party.
McDaniel said she still considered herself a supporter of Clinton’s top primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but is “casting a vote against Donald Trump” rather than for Clinton, although McDaniel said the Democratic nominee acquitted herself well.
“I think he’s his usual word salad and going off on tangents and vague hyperbole,” McDaniel said of Trump.
Not everyone agreed. Ken Capron, a former Republican legislative candidate from Portland, said he would have voted for Sanders if he won the Democratic nomination, but he’s now going for Trump, citing Clinton’s “corruption.” But he said he’s “not happy about” that choice.
“We’re a great country. We have great people who could run,” Capron said. “Where are they?”
Up the coast at the Front Street Pub in Belfast, a small crowd was watching the debate. There was Tina Del Santo, the owner, and Donny, a local who said he’s fed up with both candidates, as well as the bartender and a few people playing pool in the other room. Donny’s frustrated because he feels that he’s learned very little about either candidate’s priorities or plans during these debates.
“Wow, didn’t even shake hands, huh?” Donny said when the candidates took the stage.
Disinterest marked other parts of the state where politics usually takes center stage.
Regal Cinemas in Brunswick dedicated one of its screening rooms for free viewing of the debate. An employee told the BDN that they had four viewers for the last debate and expected fewer on Wednesday. At a couple of popular bars in Brunswick and Topsham, the responses were:
“The what? Oh, noooo … they’re watching hockey on all the TVs.”
And: “There’s a debate? It’s trivia night.”
Many higher-learning institutions have reputations as places where left-of-center politics hold sway, including College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, which has a reputation as being not just environmentally progressive, but one of the more liberal colleges or universities in the country. A crowd of about 40 gathered there to watch the debate.
As students filtered in, Clinton’s suit color choice generated some conversation.
“White power suit,” someone quipped. “Hell yeah.”
There was little outward reaction to Clinton’s comments on the Second Amendment, Supreme Court appointments and Roe v. Wade. There are some chuckles to Trump’s facial expressions, and moans of disbelief to some of his comments, especially his graphic statements about abortion.
There were hisses and guffaws at Trump’s statement that “no one has more respect for women than I do.”
At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, there were more students disappointed in Trump.
“Not voting for Trump is a moral decision. I can’t imagine a man like Donald Trump being president of our country,” a Bowdoin College senior said.
Steve Akerley, a registered nurse and union steward from Bangor, and a friend, a fellow nurse, watched the debate at Kosta’s Restaurant & Bar in Brewer with hope and dismay.
“We’re more geared for Bernie [Sanders],” said the woman, who declined to give her name.
“But we haven’t supported Hillary Clinton yet,” Akerley said. “We’re sort of in her camp because [Sanders] is, but can I tell you that every nurse in my hospital goes for Hillary? No.”
To Akerley, Clinton is the lesser of two evils — smarter, more experienced than the loud, arrogant Trump. But Trump’s lack of political skill, his crudity, was tugging at Akerley’s sleeve as a kind of honesty that contrasted well with Clinton’s studied polish.
“She has kind of morphed over to a kind of Bernie to win over Bernie supporters,” Akerley said, saying how Clinton has begun talking about raising minimum wage, better health care. But he said he still couldn’t trust Clinton.
“Does he know what he is doing? I don’t think so. It’s a Catch-22,” the woman said.
Akerley agreed. “She’s got so much baggage. My God.”
“This is very difficult,” Akerley said, quietly. “It is bloody difficult.”
BDN writers Nick Sambides Jr., Michael Shepherd, Bill Trotter, Nick McCrea, Beth Brogan and Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.