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More Democrats than Republicans went to polls in Maine

March 3, 2019 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Tens of thousands more Maine Democrats voted in the last election than did Republicans amid a burst in turnout among Democrats energized by opposition to President Donald Trump.

Nearly 42,000 more Democrats cast ballots in November than did Republicans — roughly three times the gaps seen in 2010 and 2014 — according to an analysis of state voting data by The Associated Press.

That could prove “worrisome” for Republicans in Maine and especially for GOP Sen. Susan Collins if, as expected, she chooses to seek re-election in 2020, said University of New England political science professor Brian Duff. Both sides are gearing up for a costly race.

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“I think it’s going to be an incredibly tricky year for her, especially if the Democrats find a strong candidate,” Duff said.

Maine’s partisan breakdown remained roughly the same between 2010 and 2018: A third of registered voters are Democrats, while 27 percent are Republican. The rest are independents or Greens.

But in 2018, more of those Democrats headed to the polls than have in recent midterm elections. Roughly 70 percent of registered Democratic voters cast ballots in November, up from 61 percent in 2010.

Republicans also saw 70 percent turnout, but that’s been more typical for the party in recent elections. In 2010, 68 percent voted. Independent voter turnout was also up, from 45 percent in 2010 to 51 percent last year.

The figures in Maine reflect what happened nationally in 2018: Turnout, driven by both support for and opposition to Trump, was unusually high for a midterm election.

“Whether you love him or you hate him, he inflames passions. And so I think that in 2020, it very well could be another very special year in terms of turnout,” said University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald, who compiles voting data through the U.S. Election Project.

The AP’s analysis included a comparison between turnout in 2010 — when Maine voted in a new GOP governor and a Republican-led Legislature amid a Tea Party wave— to November, when Democrats turned the tide to control both the state Senate and House and elect Maine’s first female governor.

Enthusiasm appears to be growing among Democratic voters as Maine’s population continues to shrink in rural, more conservative areas and grows in more suburban communities.

The AP’s analysis found that over 22,000 more Democratic voters cast ballots in November in the southern, more suburban counties of Cumberland and York compared with 2010. Republicans saw an overall gain of just 1,948 voters in those counties: with 180 fewer votes in Cumberland County and over 2,100 more votes in York County.

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Meanwhile, turnout increased by just 286 votes over the same period altogether in Oxford County, in rural western Maine, and Piscataquis County, the state’s least-populated county.

“If there’s anywhere Trump struggles, its cities like Portland, the suburbs,” Duff said. “If it’s anywhere that Trump does well, it’s places that resemble rural Maine.”

Maine Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Marra said the party worked hard to turn out the vote in 2018 among Democrats and also Democratic-leaning independents who don’t always vote in midterm elections, including by hiring more staff and opening new offices. She said she hopes those changes would help the party, which hopes to influence 2021 political redistricting, “withstand the years where the national tide is against us.”

Maine Republicans, meanwhile, have blamed electoral losses on strong Democratic out-of-state fundraising, a failure to attract independent voters, and support among voters for Democrat’s health care proposals.

New Gov. Janet Mills, who’s rolling out long-blocked Medicaid expansion, won with the most votes in state history over Republican Shawn Moody, who styled himself an “outsider businessman” like Trump and Mills’ predecessor, the Republican firebrand Paul LePage.

But Jason Savage, the Maine GOP’s executive director, warned that Democrats may struggle to repeat their 2018 success. Last year, they “campaigned like moderates,” he said, but are now proposing big spending increases that may turn off some voters in the middle.

Several voters said Mainers are just sick of combativeness in politics.

“It’s crazy times,” said Alex Nicolaou, a 54-year-old federal employee and independent voter from Cumberland. “People are trying to get out and make it known they don’t like what’s going on.”

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