Good morning from Augusta. There are 27 days until the November election.
What we’re watching today
Maine is loosening limits on indoor gatherings and upping mask requirements as winter nears while coronavirus cases are higher than they were a few months ago. Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order on Tuesday saying that Maine would move into a fourth of reopening, raising indoor seating limits to 100 people in many cases beginning next week. At the same time, she also tightened face-covering rules, requiring more entities to enforce mandatory masks and set a Nov. 2 date for reopening bars and tasting rooms.
Maine continues to have the second-lowest coronavirus case rate of any state, trailing only Vermont, though case levels are higher than they were a few months ago, with nearly 600 active cases per day of late, compared to less than 400 in mid-July. Testing has also continued to expand during that time.
The politics of reopening have been fraught at the state level, with Republicans criticizing Mills as overly cautious while the governor has touted Maine’s success in keeping virus cases low, a feat that few states have achieved. That has quieted somewhat in recent months, however.
Economic indicators on Maine’s recovery are mixed. While Maine’s economy may be operating more normally than any other state — operating at 94 percent of March capacity, the best mark in the nation, according to a CNN index — there is still widespread damage. Other indicators are deeply mixed.
Consumer spending has recovered here more than most states, according to Opportunity Insights, which tracks coronavirus and economic data for all 50 states. Small-business revenue remains down 32 percent from January, which is 10 percentage points worse than the national average but roughly comparable to other New England states like Maine that have gotten a handle on the virus in recent months.
Unemployment remains high, however, with nearly 54,000 workers receiving benefits as of the end of September, though Maine’s rate of claims has been at pandemic lows and is one of the lowest in the region. The state’s official job search site lists only 10,430 job postings, but that number is actually higher than it was in March before the pandemic hit.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Sara Gideon and Susan Collins within 1 point in new BDN poll of Maine Senate race,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The results are closer than those in the last BDN poll conducted in August, when Gideon had a five-point lead among likely voters, though both are within the margin of error from each other. The poll also showed fewer undecided voters, with eight percent of voters saying they were still making up their minds down from 14 percent in August.”
Maine’s first-term congressman is running away with his race even as the president posted a good number in Maine’s 2nd District. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, had a comfortable 18-point lead on Republican Dale Crafts, though President Donald Trump led Democratic nominee Joe Biden by eight points in his best showing in the swing district yet this year. In the last BDN/Digital Research poll in August, Biden held a one-point edge on the president. The phenomenon suggests a heavy amount of swing support for Golden, who has worked hard to craft a moderate image that seems to be holding.
— “After Trump pulls out of stimulus talks, Susan Collins says delaying bill ‘huge mistake’,” Piper, BDN: “In a statement, [U.S. Sen. Susan] Collins contrasted recent congressional inaction with March, when leaders of both parties came together to allocate nearly $3 trillion to address the virus, including passing the Paycheck Protection Program, which she co-authored.”
Collins’ Democratic challenger hit back by saying the incumbent has not delivered on aid. While Collins has advocated with the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation for state and local aid in a future virus bill, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said Tuesday that Collins “often talks about the importance of her seniority, but it’s been months since the last round of federal relief was passed” and the senator has “failed to stand up” to party leaders.
— “Supreme Court turns away Republican appeal on ranked voting,” David Sharp, Associated Press: “The Maine GOP’s appeal was filed after the first votes had been cast by overseas voters. Additional ballots were being cast this week as more voters returned absentee ballots, either in person or by mail.”
That is the final word in court on ranked-choice voting. Maine will be using ranked-choice voting in the congressional and presidential races after a litany of court challenges this year that are now over. As of Tuesday, the number of absentee voters stood at nearly 27,000, equaling about 3 percent of the November 2016 turnout. More than 300,000 Maine voters have already requested absentee ballots, led by a push from Democrats.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email firstname.lastname@example.org (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.
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