Undecided voters are a rare commodity in 2020 in Maine and across the country. After the Bangor Daily News profiled four of them, campaigns set out to win them over.
Just before we first interviewed independents Jane Brann and Martin Novom, conservative Gabriel Karam and progressive Weeza Matthias in October, a poll found 7 percent of Maine voters undecided on the U.S. Senate race and 3 percent in the presidential election. This week, a SurveyUSA poll pegged those groups at 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
All four voters got calls from campaigns after they went public. Two were called personally by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican. It is a look into how campaigns use personal connections to win. But the calls did little to alleviate a collective frustration the group cited with partisan divides and nobody expressed total satisfaction with their ultimate choices.
For Novom, of Clifton, the decision to vote for House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, over Collins came down to a numbers game. After researching both candidates, he said his desire to help Democrats wrest Senate control from Republicans won out over his fear of losing Collins’ seniority and willingness to work across the aisle. The choice came with inner conflict.
“In a political culture where almost nobody cares about cooperation, I’m still a holdout for cooperation,” he said.
Brann, who lives on Cold Stream Pond in West Enfield, got a phone call from both Collins and the Gideon campaign. The senator has a camp on the same pond and her dog has wandered into Brann’s yard before. The two discussed pharmaceutical bills backed by Collins, Brann said.
After saying she was leaning toward Gideon at the beginning of last week, Brann said she voted for Democrats including Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, but declined to say who she backed for Senate, adding “I have to live in the neighborhood” and voting is a private choice.
For her, both seniority and the ability to block Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, were important factors in her decision. Brann also said she felt frustrated that neither option may be enough to break through the partisanship and negativity of politics.
Matthias, of Bangor, also expressed frustration with her choice to vote for Joe Baldacci in the Maine Senate District 9 race. But after researching Republican Sean Hinkley and independent Kristie Miner, she said she needed to choose the most progressive candidate.
While she said Baldacci, a Democrat and the brother of former Gov. John Baldacci, is the “nicest guy” and he called her after she went public, Matthias maintained she still has an issue with political dynasties, which she said unfairly elevate white men to power.
“I’m tired of old white men running this country,” she said. “They aren’t doing a good job.”
Karam, of Bangor, was relieved to have finally made a decision in the presidential race, but was a little uncertain as he drove home from voting on Friday. He ranked Libertarian Jo Jorgensen first, Rocky De La Fuente of the Alliance Party second and Biden third. Collins also called him, but he said his vote for her was never in doubt.
His presidential vote conflicted with his dislike of ranked-choice voting and Biden, who he sees as “extremely liberal.” Karam ultimately viewed his vote as a protest of the two-party system and a rebuke of Trump, who he sees as a “proven constitutional liability.”
“I feel like, if those are the rules of the game, I might as well use it,” he said.
This project was produced with support from a grant from the American Press Institute.