Maine’s 2nd Congressional District did something no place else in the Northeast did in 2016 by giving Donald Trump an electoral vote.
That Electoral College vote — the first Maine has given to a Republican since 1988 — highlighted the fact that the district is a political outlier compared with the northeastern United States, which is no surprise to the people who live here.
For some, such as Todd Rogers of Passadumkeag, who was selling meat and vegetables from his farm recently in Lincoln, that’s a point of pride.
“The state shouldn’t be blue all of the time,” said Rogers, a Trump supporter. “The 1st District is too big and powerful in our state. In that one moment in time, in that election, the people of the 2nd District stood up and said ‘this is what we want.’”
Trump bested Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2nd District by 10 percentage points. In southern Maine’s 1st District, Clinton walloped Trump 54 percent to 40 percent.
For the most part, more than three dozen voters interviewed by the Bangor Daily News during a more than 700-mile research trip through the district in late September stood by the choices they made in voting booths last year. Among them was 81-year-old Joella Paradis of Fort Kent, whose choice had no chance of victory. Unable to support Trump or Clinton, she wrote “Ralph Nader” on her ballot.
“He’s good and he’s bad,” said Paradis of Trump. “With the language, sometimes it seems he could have had a little help with public relations. We have to respect that he’s the president but then, he doesn’t demand the respect.”
For many, Trump’s tone in his public appearances and on Twitter are cause for concern, annoyance or in some cases, outright fear.
“He has foot-in-his-mouth disease,” said Tina Huckins of Limestone, a Clinton voter who works in Caribou. “He seems to always be saying the wrong thing. I’m sure he’s going to do an alright job; I’m not worried about that, but maybe he should listen more to his speechwriters. He’s angering other world leaders too much.”
Worried about war
Several people brought up Trump’s tough rhetoric regarding North Korea, which has threatened a nuclear attack and in recent weeks has been testing long-range missiles. In September, Trump said during a speech to the United Nations that if the United States were forced to defend itself or its allies, it would “totally destroy North Korea.”
Mitch Lachapelle, sitting outside a coffee shop in downtown Bangor, said that’s not the kind of talk he expects from a U.S. president.
“I thought once he got into office, his filter would have been magnified but it looks like that’s not the case,” said Lachapelle, who voted for Clinton. “Someone with that much power having no filter with other world leaders, that’s dangerous.”
But several voters said they welcome Trump’s tough tone. Tom St. John, owner of the Blue Ox Saloon in Millinocket, said Trump represents a lot of people whose voices have never registered with politicians and the media.
“He’s doing and saying everything that everyone has always wanted to happen but were just afraid to say,” said St. John. “He is our mouthpiece and hopefully he will do what we want.”
Al Cowett, a Trump supporter from Lincoln, said a political wall of opposition from the Democrats is Trump’s biggest problem, but his mouth doesn’t help.
“If he would just shut his mouth, he would get a lot better,” said Cowett.
Several people agreed to talk with the Bangor Daily News, but only anonymously because they feared reprisals from family members and in their social circles. One such person, a Fort Kent retiree who worked for Fraser Paper in Madawaska for 40 years and voted for Trump after supporting Democrat Barack Obama in his first term, blamed political gridlock for Trump’s problems.
“On health care, he should have just sat together with the Democrats and talked about it,” he said. “Too many people are on government insurance. You see young kids, 20 years old, who say they have a bad back so they go on disability. I worked for 40 years with a bad back.”
Checks and balances
Several people, such as Jean Bourg of Unity, said Trump can be counterbalanced by the other branches of government and military officials.
“The only good thing about Trump is that he’s making people realize how fragile our democracy and country can be,” Bourg said. “People with actual government experience, like the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they’re the only thing possibly saving us from a crazy man talking to another crazy man in another country and putting us in imminent danger of some kind of catastrophic event.”
Some said Trump’s biggest controversies, such as the uproar he created when he wouldn’t denounce a white supremacist rally in Virginia or when he said National Football League players should stand during the national anthem or be fired, could lead to improvements in the long run.
“At least he has us talking about some of these important issues,” said Ashley Archer of Hampden, a Trump voter.
Not everyone sees it that way.
“He’s dividing us,” said Nicole Moore, who lives in the Waldo County town of Jackson. “I think he has a lot of valid points but usually acts like a teenager.”
On the 2nd District’s university campuses, students asked about Trump often mentioned immigration.
“I’m disturbed to have a person in the highest office of our country talking about arresting and deporting immigrants,” said Naomi Swan, a student at the University of Maine at Farmington.
At the University of Maine at Presque Isle, two international students also brought up immigration. Adan Mohamed of Portland, a Somali immigrant who is vice president of the university’s student body, said Trump is choosing favorites and is “working on emotions rather than evaluation.”
“The president is supposed to be for all the people,” said Mohamed. “He should do his job rather than attack people.”
Fellow UMPI student Evan Zarkadas, a Greek dual citizen from Rhode Island, agreed.
“I’m not going to say he’s horrible but I do not agree with his immigration policies,” Zarkadas said. “I’m totally against that.”
Thomas Watson, an UMPI student who voted for Trump, is studying political science, education and social studies. “I think he’s taking us in a good direction but he needs to drop the border wall talk,” said Watson.
Why’s it matter?
Lisa Cotton-Sander of Rumford doesn’t vote for religious reasons but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care who the president is or what he does.
“We come across as a nation for having all these serious problems and issues,” she said. “That really bothers me on a human level.”
Karen Harriman of Topsfield, a Trump voter, said who the president is matters, even in rural Maine where there is little direct interaction with the federal government.
“He governs the whole United States,” said Harriman.
For some, such as Raymond Ouellette of Wallagrass, Trump’s policies could hit where it hurts. Ouellette, 78, said he barely survives on a Social Security disability check.
“He wants to cut everything and for me, that doesn’t help,” said Ouellette. “I can’t pay my bills. I just have to take what they can give me.”
Not everyone is caught up in national politics. For the past six months, Reed Vandenberghe of Rochester, New York, has been hiking the Appalachian Trail. He finished the hike Sept. 27 on Mt. Katahdin but otherwise has had little chance to watch the news.
“I came off the trail once and saw the flags in Virginia at half staff,” he said. “My first thought was, ‘What has Donald done now?’”
Whether Trump’s support in the 2nd Congressional District indicates that it has gone from solidly from blue to red faces key tests before his name can appear again on a ballot here. This November’s referendum on whether Maine should expand its Medicaid program under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is the next test, and the 2018 re-election campaign of Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is another.
Whatever plays out, one thing is clear: Donald Trump has put a spotlight on Maine’s 2nd Congressional District that won’t dim anytime soon.