LISBON, Maine — Placing political limelight on an unlikely Maine town at a small Christian school, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday pounced on fresh news that the FBI is re-opening a probe of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state.
It was the subject the New York billionaire chose to open a half-hour speech, doubling down on a message that Clinton can’t be trusted as his campaign looks to reverse a polling slide that came after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced earlier this month.
Clinton got somewhat of a reprieve in July when the FBI said it wouldn’t recommend criminal charges against her for the handling of classified information on private email servers, prompting outrage from Trump and leading Republicans.
But The New York Times reported on Friday that the FBI re-opened the case after finding tens of thousands of other emails while investigating Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, Clinton’s top aide.
“I have great respect for the FBI for righting this wrong,” Trump said during a speech that ran for more than a half-hour in Lisbon. “This is the biggest political scandal since Watergate.”
Echoing themes he made during four previous visits to Maine, Trump also trashed trade deals that he says cost U.S. jobs, pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act and vowed to drive what he calls elitist politicians out of Washington, D.C.
But his fifth trip to Maine was a unique one: Instead of rallies in Portland or Bangor, he spoke in the gymnasium of a school run by the Open Door Baptist Church in the 9,000-resident town of Lisbon, melding the evangelical and working-class audiences that he has tried to woo.
He was in Maine in a long-standing attempt to win one of the state’s four Electoral College votes in the 2nd Congressional District, where he held a wide September polling lead. But that may have evaporated amid Trump’s wider slip in national polls.
Clinton is leading by more than 4 percentage points in the latest Real Clear Politics average and on Friday held an 81.6 percent chance of winning the presidency, according to FiveThirtyEight. A poll conducted in October had Clinton tied in the 2nd District, and she’s widely favored in Maine’s 1st District.
With a history dominated by manufacturing and conservative local politics, Lisbon is a good vessel for Trump’s message, focused on the loss of American manufacturing jobs that he and many Maine labor Democrats have blamed on free trade agreements.
The hulking Worumbo Mill was built on the Androscoggin River in 1864, employing 170 people in its heyday. It ceased operation in 2006, and after years of wrangling over reuse plans, it was demolished earlier this year.
The town is represented in the Maine Senate by Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, the 31-year-old majority leader and rising star upset over a Democratic incumbent in 2010 to win his first term. His mother, Gina, is likely to replace her cousin, state Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, in the Nov. 8 election.
“Who would have believed that the next president of the United States was going to wrap up his campaign right here in Lisbon, Maine?” he asked the crowd to cheers.
The allegations of sexual misconduct that have roiled Trump’s campaign didn’t bother Julie Snell, a manager at Cigarette Shopper on Route 196, who said she supported Clinton when she ran against Barack Obama in 2008 for the Democratic nomination.
This time, she’ll vote for Trump.
“He’s somebody different,” she said. “He may not be the most desirable of humans, but he’s somebody different. Politicians feel threatened by the fact that he’s a non-political person.”
Kimberly Lalone, who works at Dr. Mike’s Madness Cafe on Main Street, around the corner from the church, was less enthusiastic, saying she “can’t stand him” and wouldn’t vote for him or Clinton.
“He thinks because he has money that he knows better. And her, she thinks just because her husband was in the White House and she’s [worked with] Obama, she’s better,” Lalone said. “They think they’re better than everyone else, but they don’t know what it’s like to work 40 hours a week.”
Despite Trump’s arrival being delayed by almost two hours and a protest planned by a student group at Bates College in Lewiston, the mood inside and outside the school was generally non-confrontational.
The crowd was limited to 1,300, according to Lisbon Fire Chief Sean Galipeau, who estimated that 200 to 300 people with tickets weren’t allowed in — an example of the Trump campaign’s routine over-ticketing of rallies to ensure maximum crowds.
One of the the turned-away was John Byrd of Topsham, who said he was disappointed because “I’ve got big signs out on my lawn and everything.” But he didn’t hold a grudge.
Byrd said he was a longtime Democrat who became a Republican recently, yet there are only two he’d vote for: Trump and Trump-endorsing Gov. Paul LePage, hitting U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who have been critical of Trump.
“I think if we get Hillary, I’ll tell you right now,” Byrd said, “I think we’re going to be in a world of shit, to be honest with you.”
BDN writer Beth Brogan contributed to this report.