Blogs > Cliopatria > Maine & Obama

Feb 7, 2008 2:44 pm

Maine & Obama

It’s always difficult to determine whether public remarks about pending political matters from the Clinton campaign represent anything beyond spin. That said, as a longtime resident of Maine, I’m baffled by the campaign’s current line that Barack Obama is the favorite in every contest until those of March 4. With the exception of a post in today’s Fix, the Clinton version seems to have become conventional wisdom. Obama may very well win Maine on Sunday. (There have been no statewide polls in several months.) But it would be hard to imagine a state less favorable to him politically.

First, Clinton has the support of Maine’s governor (and former 2nd district congressman) John Baldacci; the Clintons also have a longstanding relationship with the state’s last Democratic senator, George Mitchell. Obama has received the endorsement of the state’s largest paper, the Portland Press-Herald, but the party leadership is clearly behind Clinton.

Second, Maine has a long tradition of electing women to statewide offices. It sent Margaret Chase Smith to the Senate for four terms; from 1949 through 1973, she was the upper chamber’s sole female member. Today, Maine is one of three states (alongside Washington and California) to have two female senators.

Third, Maine is one of the whitest (97 percent) states in the country. Asian-Americans (who backed Clinton over Obama in California) are its largest minority group (only 0.9 percent of the total population is Asian). The state’s minorities do not have a record of political activism.

Fourth, Maine’s white Democrats are disproportionately ethnic and working-class—demographic groups critical to Clinton’s triumphs in New Jersey and Massachusetts. They’ve tended to dominate Democratic primaries, as well. In 1996, former governor and congressman Joe Brennan ran for the Senate—fresh off not one but two losing campaigns for governor (1990 and 1994). It was clear that he had no chance of victory if he were nominated, but he prevailed anyway, thanks to overwhelming backing from older voters and French-American voters in the Lewiston-Auburn area. (Brennan then lost in the fall to Susan Collins.) Six years later, the reformist state senator who had lost to Brennan, Sean Faircloth, ran for the seat vacated by Baldacci; despite attracting the endorsement of the 2nd district’s most famous resident, Stephen King, Faircloth lost the primary to Mike Michaud, a pro-life Democrat and former millworker. Michaud endorsed John Edwards for President; he hasn’t made a new endorsement. (The state’s other congressman, Tom Allen, is running for the Senate, and has said he will remain neutral in the primary.)

Fifth, Maine has a small student population. Students at its three elite liberal arts colleges (Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby) are overwhelmingly from out of state. The main branch of the University of Maine is in Orono—more than two hours away from the state’s population center on the southern coast. The satellite UM branches don’t have a record of political activism. Obama, in short, can’t rely on a surge of student support.

As far as I can tell, the assumption that Obama will carry Maine seems to be based solely on the state’s caucus structure. The Illinois senator has, of course, done exceptionally well this year in caucuses, a format recently denounced by Hillary Clinton as undemocratic. (It's not clear whether Clinton previously devoted any time in her 35 years working on behalf of change to eliminating the scourge of caucuses.) The caucus structure might be enough for Obama to win. But the suggestion that Maine is a natural place for him to run well seems to me a bit far-fetched.

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Ralph E. Luker - 2/8/2008

Dear Brother Johnson, I prefer to think that you were on the sauce when you wrote this. The combination of spelling mistakes, syntactical errors, and self- contradictions are a sight to behold!

Whatever H Whatever - 2/8/2008

I suppose Clinton is deliberately lowering expectations. However, the Obama camp may be or is predicting that Maine will split fiftyfifty; see
If both Obama and Clinton think Obama's not going to lose in ME, they must be seeing private polls predicting that outcome using some caucus turnout model. Obama lost in NH, but the NH exit poll showed Obama was the winner among non-Catholics while Catholics went 45% to 26% for Clinton. In MA among non-Catholics Obama/Clinton split the votes fiftyfifty while Catholics voted 64/33 for Clinton. Catholics are a much smaller percentage of Maine overall population than in NH and MA. Namely Catholic ME=27%, NH=35%, MA=44%. Of course overall pop is not the same as turnout pop and of course this Catholic thing is much confounded with socioeconomic class. Nevertheless the reduction in Catholics is adverse for Clinton in Maine. See

lloyd j johnson - 2/7/2008


Did Ricci or Johnson teach you to be a raciest? That's what this article stipulates. Maine voters have always voted for the anti-etsablishment/up and coming politican. Race or gender has nothing to do with their vote. Independents have won as much as woman have won elected officials. I believe its due to their independance and Maine attitude. You elitest opinion is a disgrace and you should be ashamed. In the true tradition of Blaine, Smith, Longley, Muskie, Hathaway, Brennan, Snowe, and Collins
you should be ashamed of your self!

Robert KC Johnson - 2/7/2008

Yes, I saw the Sullivan comment--in general, I think it's an astute one.

The two differences in Maine: (1) it's the first caucus state where the political leadership is actively opposed to Obama (unlike, say, in Idaho or Kansas, or in the Utah primary, where most leading Dems backed him); and (2) the state party has had tension between ethnic Dems and "latte Dems" in the past decade or so, and the ethnic Dems have consistently won out.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/7/2008

There was some garble in the URL, but it's gone now.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2008

Sorry. The link's apparently too long to replicate in HNN's comments system. The comment is at Andrew Sullivan's blog, 7 February 2008, at 9:41 a.m.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2008

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers made fairly astute observation about the conditions for Obama's success. If the comment is essentially correct, wouldn't that put Maine in the company of states like Alaska and Idaho, where Obama's had considerable success in caucus states with a very low minority population?