Dale Crafts (left) and Jared Golden are pictured in August 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. There are 54 days until Election Day.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “That’s just not acceptable,” Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, said after asking for a probe into a noose allegedly left in a Washington Academy teacher’s classroom in March. “We all want the academy to succeed, but this just hurts everybody.”

What we’re watching today

A non-endorsement from one influential group may neutralize gun policy as a key issue in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. The praise did not come with an endorsement, but David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said the records of U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, and former state Rep. Dale Crafts, a Republican, made them worthy of an A+ ranking during a Thursday interview on WVOM.

The move breaks from the National Rifle Association, with which the sportsman’s group often aligns. The NRA endorsed Crafts last week while giving Golden a solid B rating. The difference between the two groups is that the sportsman’s alliance does not endorse non-incumbents.

Trahan said his group had a “cold relationship” with Golden during his first race. That is an understatement. The group hammered Golden in 2018 when he did not respond to its questionnaire. In the Legislature, he also opposed a 2016 law repealing Maine’s concealed-handgun permit requirement. But it rallied around him after he opposed background check expansion similar to a 2016 referendum defeated in Maine. 

Crafts sits on the alliance’s board and was singled out for praise for his stalwart gun-rights record by Trahan on Thursday, saying he is like “family” to the group. But he also said Golden gave one of the best interviews he had heard a candidate give in a move that may neutralize gun rights as an issue in the race.

“Both gentlemen in this race deserve a positive grade, and we gave it to them,” Trahan said.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s policy on endorsing incumbents.

Other endorsements in Maine races were less surprising. Both the NRA and the sportsman’s alliance are backing U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, over House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, in their nationally targeted race featuring independents Max Linn and Lisa Savage. Collins is notable among her party for backing pushes to strengthen background checks, but Gideon has championed stricter gun control measures and been endorsed by the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund.

Both of Maine’s top-tier races will be mainly waged over other issues. Crafts will pick up an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business today, which is likely in part due to his campaign promise to work to lower corporate taxes.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Feds roll out subsidy program for lobstermen harmed by Trump’s trade war,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “President Donald Trump announced in June that aid for lobstermen would be available through a program previously aimed at farmers. Maine’s congressional delegation has lobbied for funding for the industry for more than a year, citing the massive decline in business for Maine lobstermen as China imposed retaliatory tariffs on American lobster and shifted to buying much of its lobster from Canada.”

But lawmakers and industry leaders are concerned that the aid does not extend to supply chain businesses. The Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association was “extremely disappointed” by the rollout, executive director Annie Tselikis said. Members of Maine’s congressional delegation echoed that sentiment in a Wednesday evening statement, saying they planned to push the Trump administration to expand the program.

— “Plan to close Maine’s virus-induced budget gap includes savings, stimulus and liquor money,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “This proposal appears to avoid having to cut existing funds from the current budget and layoffs for now. Kirsten Figueroa, [Gov. Janet] Mills’ budget commissioner, proposed taking $130.5 million from unspent appropriations from the previous fiscal year, as well as setting aside $125 million in general fund money in this year’s budget freed up from improved Medicaid matching rates and continued cost mitigation efforts like hiring freezes, to counter the bulk of the shortfall.

Cutbacks on travel, hiring and technology upgrades may only get the state so far. The Legislature is expected to face more than $800 million in revenue shortfalls when they craft the biennium budget. The Mills administration has made it clear that it sees more federal aid as the only way to avoid cutting services. A Senate vote on a GOP package could happen today, but it does not include aid for state and local governments and seems unlikely to pass anyway. 

— “Orrington church fights Maine’s coronavirus restrictions in federal appeals court,” Charles Eichacker, BDN: “Among other arguments, [church attorney Roger] Gannam said that the state was violating Calvary Chapel’s religious liberties by not allowing it to hold gatherings of a size that would be allowed for organizations deemed essential, such as a social service agency.

The lawsuit is one of the outstanding legal cases being waged against Mills’ reopening plan. Judges also heard arguments from a group of campground and restaurant owners in southern Maine who have been fighting Mills’ 14-day quarantine for some out-of-state visitors. It also makes the Orrington church a rarity — aside from a few outliers in Searsport and Sanford, most churches seem content to follow the rules.

U.S. Senate developments

There’s some fresh material on the airwaves in Maine’s competitive U.S. Senate race, though it might not be what you’re expecting. Unenrolled candidate Lisa Savage, a teacher and former Green party member from Solon, is out with her first TV ad. The 30-second spot highlights Savage’s support for Medicare for All, the universal health care plan championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

The incumbent in the race picked up some cross-party support — sort of. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000, endorsed Collins in an ad that will be run by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Lieberman references himself as a “lifelong Democrat” in the ad, although he unenrolled from the party to run as an independent in 2006 after losing a primary. He continued to caucus with Democrats after winning that year. Lieberman endorsed Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008 before backing Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Here’s your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...