President Donald Trump addressed a friendly crowd of around 200 at a Guilford manufacturer on Friday applauding workers for their efforts in producing swabs used in coronavirus testing in an address that often veered into a campaign speech.
His trip to Maine came at a pivotal moment, as the country looks to recover from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 in the U.S. and anti-racism rallies rage over police killings. Roughly 200 people protested at the Bangor airport as Trump landed there, but concerns from Gov. Janet Mills that the visit could cause a security issue were unrealized.
After meeting with former Gov. Paul LePage and signing a proclamation on fisheries, Trump helicoptered to Guilford where he gave a speech that featured interludes from Puritan Medical Products employees speaking in praise of his work as he mixed his official visit with politics.
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The Republican president, who won one of Maine’s four electoral votes from the relatively conservative 2nd District in 2016, said he plans to win the whole state this year.
“Get that other half to go with Trump,” he said. “There’s a very, very important election coming up.”
Trump touted a Friday jobs report that showed an unexpected uptick in employment nationwide in May compared to April and warned about immigration while repeating criticisms made earlier of Gov. Janet Mills, saying that Maine was not opening its economy fast enough.
He swiped at China, the media and indirectly at former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the 2020 election in his speech after a tour of the facility.
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In April, he invoked the Defense Production Act to get Puritan, one of the top worldwide makers of the swabs needed for virus testing, to increase production. The company will be opening a second factory in Pittsfield in July with $75.5 million in federal money and will add 150 jobs.
The president said he uses the Puritan swabs when he takes a coronavirus test “every other day,” and noted that the United States has performed the most tests of any country, although some countries have done more testing on a per capita basis. USA Today reported that swabs made during the president’s tour would have to be thrown out. The reason was unclear, though Trump did not wear a mask inside the factory.
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“We’re doing a great job at the testing and you’re doing a great job at getting out the swabs,” Trump said.
Earlier in the day, the president held a roundtable discussion with fishermen where he also signed a proclamation opening a national marine monument off the Gulf of Maine to commercial fishing, though it is not clear whether he has the authority to do so.
Former Gov. Paul LePage joined Trump for the panel at Bangor International Airport, while former Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District was with him in Guilford. Notably absent was Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who visited the new Puritan facility in Pittsfield in May and faces a top-tier challenge from Democrats in 2020.
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Collins publicly denounced Trump in 2016 but has declined to say whether she supports him this year. Her office said she held a Zoom call with municipal leaders Friday afternoon, while she also participated in a virtual fundraiser.
Trump’s visit was derided by Democrats as a campaign stunt. Mills, who Trump likened to a dictator early in the day, criticized the president’s “lack of leadership,” saying she would not take advice from him. In a statement, Biden called Trump “woefully late” in responding to the virus.
The president’s visit was also met with protests in Bangor, though they remained largely peaceful. In the Bangor International Airport shuttle lot, 200 people gathered, many holding Black Lives Matter signs, to protest against Trump’s visit to Maine and his divisive politics.
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Protesters spread out across the lawn next to the parking lot, and tied large hand painted banners to the fence of the lot, which directly faces the airport.
“The message that he not-so subtly at this point propagates — the message of division — is not welcome in any part of the country, and particularly not this one,” said Nathaniel Willams, who came from Westport Island for the demonstration.
BDN writer Eesha Pendharkar contributed to this report.
Watch: Trump supporters gather on Water Street in Guilford