MADISON, Maine (AP) — In the north country of New England, where gun rights are sacrosanct and good jobs vanished along with the paper mills that traditionally propped up the economy, Donald Trump is finding far stronger support than in coastal and urban areas more politically attuned to Boston.
The demographics could help the Republican presidential candidate avoid a shutout in the liberal Northeast. If that happens, it would be the first time Maine’s electoral votes would split. Maine awards two electoral votes for the statewide winner, and one for each of the state’s two congressional districts.
Because of that, Maine could help Trump score a win in strongly Democratic New England on Tuesday. The proving ground is the 2nd District, which covers the state’s vast northern and eastern reaches. Trump has drawn thousands of people to rallies amid indications of a tight race with Democrat Hillary Clinton. In Maine’s other district, based in the southern coastal areas, Clinton has a wide lead.
“They live differently than the people up here live. They’ve got the cities and those things,” said Bob Hagopian, the owner of a gun shop in Madison, a town of 4,800 people astride the Kennebec River. Given his obvious support for gun rights, Hagopian said, his choice is clear: “Trump.”
The billionaire businessman’s calls to keep jobs on American soil, protect gun rights and crack down on the international drug trade are popular in the district. Rural Maine has lost thousands of well-paying jobs to paper and textile mill closures, including the Madison mill this year, and it’s a place where many people hunt for sport and food.
It’s also an area that has been wracked by opioid painkiller abuse. Although the district shares a frontier of 600 miles with Canada, residents are primarily concerned about the border with Mexico, which is a key supplier of illegal drugs to the U.S.
The district also is the home base of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, a Trump supporter popular with — and twice elected by — rural Maine conservatives.
“When you take the economic, geographic, community-type profile, the racial profile, the gun rights profile, it makes lots of sense why Trump is doing far better here than anywhere else in New England,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, located in the 2nd District.
Clinton has a wide lead in Maine’s 1st District, home to a denser population, wealthier people and Portland, the largest city in a state of 1.3 million people. The area is a liberal stronghold where signs promoting Clinton, marijuana and gun-control ballot initiatives, and Green Party longshot Jill Stein, all vastly outnumber those for Trump. Both districts are heavily white, but the 2nd is slightly whiter.
Clinton has supporters in the 2nd District, too, particularly in Bangor, the state’s third-largest city. While she has vowed to honor the Second Amendment she also wants to add restrictions on guns. That makes many conservatives suspicious.
If the outcome of the district’s race is unlikely to be a deciding factor in the presidential election, some residents still see it as a chance to send a message: They’re unhappy with Democratic policies.
Jason Greene, a chain hotel manager who lives in Durham and attended a Trump campaign appearance last month, said his district could make its case about immigration and the loss of factory jobs by voting for Trump.
“People in Maine’s 2nd District are tired of the globalist trade deals, they’re tired of the globalist wars and they are tired of unlimited immigration coming in when we have a major drug problem,” he said.
An inverted scenario is playing out in Nebraska, which also portions out electoral votes by district. Clinton is looking to shave off a Nebraska electoral vote, hoping to follow President Barack Obama’s success in 2008.
The Clinton campaign opened an office in Omaha earlier this summer, has run a stream of ads on local TV and radio and pledged about $250,000 for down-ballot Democratic candidates in Maine and Nebraska, the other state that awards its electoral votes according to district, said Hannah Ledford, the campaign’s Nebraska director.
In Maine, some conservative voters who caucused for John Kasich or Ted Cruz during the GOP primary said they aren’t as enthusiastic about Trump as some of their neighbors. But they said they intended to vote for him anyway.
“I believe he sees economics the way I do,” said John Grooms of Madison, who likes Trump’s stance on lowering taxes. He’s not so enthusiastic about other Trump qualities. “I don’t like his crass and brash way.”
Associated Press writer Margery A. Beck, in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.
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