PORTLAND — Maine voters are sticking by President Obama – so far, at least – despite deep concern about the lagging economy, according to a Portland Press Herald poll.
A statewide sampling of Maine voters shows they favor Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, 49 percent to 35 percent, with four months left in the intensifying presidential campaign.
Nationally, Obama and Romney are in a dead heat at 47 percent each, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday.
Mainers say they continue to struggle economically just like other Americans, and that disappointment has subdued the enthusiasm of some who supported Obama in 2008, 58 percent to 40 percent over Republican John McCain. However, Romney has yet to turn the issue against Obama and connect with voters in Maine the way he has in other states, the poll suggests.
Former Maine Gov. Angus King, meanwhile, holds a substantial lead over his Republican and Democratic rivals in the race for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat.
Fifty-five percent of those polled said they support King, more than double the support for the closest candidate, Republican Charlie Summers. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they favor Summers and 7 percent said they favor Democrat Cynthia Dill.
King, running as an independent, is drawing support from members of both parties, especially Democrats. Sixty-seven percent of the Democrats polled said they support King, while 17 percent said they support Dill, the party’s nominee.
Maine’s two U.S. representatives, both Democrats, lead in their bids for re-election Nov. 6, according to the poll.
Rep. Chellie Pingree is especially strong in the 1st Congressional District, leading Republican Jon Courtney 57 percent to 31 percent among those polled in southern and coastal Maine.
Rep. Mike Michaud leads Republican Kevin Raye 47 percent to 35 percent in Maine’s 2nd District, where a relatively large bloc of voters said they are undecided.
The poll, conducted by Portland-based Critical Insights in late June, provides a snapshot of voter opinion in Maine at the start of the four-month general election campaigns. Poll numbers still reflect name recognition to some degree, and there is plenty of time and campaigning left for candidates to rise and fall, experts say.
A close look at the results shows where candidates are strong and where they face challenges. It also reveals that Maine voters are following national trends in some ways, and breaking away in others.
Here is a deeper look at each race:
THE RACE FOR PRESIDENT
The poll results suggest two big reasons for Obama’s lead in Maine so far: Many Mainers are not blaming him for the continuing economic problems, and they have not warmed up to Mitt Romney.
The strain of a lagging economy three years into Obama’s presidency is clearly swaying some voters here.
Greg Hatt, 56, a carpenter who’s a registered Democrat from Camden, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but is leaning against voting for him again in November.
“I think he’s let the country down by focusing so much on this health care thing,” Hatt said. “He should have been really pushing the economy.”
Overall, however, Mainers clearly appear to be more forgiving than most other Americans.
Obama’s 48 percent approval rating in Maine is about the same as his rating nationally. But his disapproval rating is 40 percent in Maine and 48 percent nationally.
Jason Bermudez, a 40-year-old legal receptionist who is a registered Democrat, said he still has faith in the president.
“I think he was handed a big mess, and to think that he could have wrapped it all up in four years is a little naive,” said Bermudez, who lives in Portland. “I think that he’s a great man and I don’t think we’ve seen the best he can do yet.”
Obama has strong support from Maine women, and from voters who are younger than 35 and older than 55.
Romney’s support is strongest among middle-age voters and men, according to the poll.
Voters who were polled said they trust Obama over Romney to handle such issues as international affairs, national security, health care and women’s issues. And when asked who they most trust to create jobs – Romney’s central campaign issue – 42 percent chose Obama and 42 percent chose Romney.
“That right there is terrible news for Romney,” said Mark Brewer, associate professor of political science at the University of Maine.
Brewer said Maine voters like to be able to relate to their political leaders as one of them. “Obama can do average guy a lot better than Romney can,” Brewer said. “Mitt Romney doesn’t come off as a kind of politician Mainers would warm up to.”
Elizabeth Sellner, a 49-year-old mother and independent voter from Portland, said she will vote for Romney because she is determined to remove Obama.
“It’s time to move on. … I wish we could find a president like Ronald Reagan,” she said. Asked if Romney could be that president, she said, “I think so. I hope so.”
THE RACE FOR U.S. SENATE
King is in firm control of the race for Republican Olympia Snowe’s U.S. Senate seat, according to the poll. While a lot of time remains between now and November, said Brewer, “it’s clearly his race to lose.”
King’s appeal crosses a wide spectrum, according to the poll, with more than 50 percent support among almost every subgroup of voters: men, women, young, old, less educated, more educated, low-income, high-income.
He trails only among Republicans and self-described conservatives, who favor Summers.
The poll did not ask by name about three lesser-known independent Senate candidates, though 1 percent of respondents said they plan to vote for someone other than King, Summers or Dill.
Hatt, the Democrat from Camden, said he doesn’t feel obligated to vote for his party’s candidate. “I don’t know much about her. I know Angus King and I like him,” Hatt said.
Some Democratic voters said they are backing King to make sure that a Republican isn’t elected. Mainers elected Republican Gov. Paul LePage in 2010 in a race in which independent Eliot Cutler finished a close second and Democrat Libby Mitchell finished a distant third.
“(King) is vastly preferable to any of the Republicans who seem to be wedded to the kind of extremist policies of … the tea party,” said George McNeil, a physician and a Democratic voter from the Steep Falls section of Standish.
King’s candidacy as an unattached moderate trying to break through partisanship in the Senate is a message that appeals to Maine voters, according to the poll. Fifty-eight percent of those polled said they want their U.S. senators and representatives to be willing to compromise and vote across party lines, rather than always vote on their principles.
“What irritates me most is how everybody that gets elected seems to fall in line with their party’s principles,” said James Violette, 65, a retired teacher and unenrolled voter from Nobleboro who is leaning toward supporting King.
Herman London, a Republican and a retired potato farmer from Hodgdon in Aroostook County, said he will vote for Summers and doesn’t believe King can change politics in Washington. “I don’t think there’s any one person we put in there who’s going to fix the problem,” he said.
THE RACES FOR U.S. HOUSE
Pingree’s lead in the 1st Congressional District reflects strong support from Maine’s independent voters as well as Democrats, according to the poll.
Eighty-seven percent of Democrats and 60 percent of unenrolled voters who were polled said they would definitely or likely vote for her if the election were held now.
Seventy-eight percent of Republicans and 23 percent of independents said they favor the Republican nominee, Maine Sen. Jon Courtney of Springvale.
Angelina Simmons of Harpswell, a 36-year-old educational technician who’s an independent voter, said she knows where Pingree stands on issues and “has been very pleased.”
Simmons said she supports Pingree on issues such as regulating toxins and expanding access to health care, one of Simmons’ biggest concerns. “I think we’re going in the right direction toward national health care,” she said.
Pingree is married to financier S. Donald Sussman, a contributor to Democratic and charitable causes and the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.
As expected, the race in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is closer, according to the poll.
Michaud’s lead is strongest among women and voters 55 to 64 years old and older, according to the poll.
Name recognition and more conservative voters in central and northern Maine appear to be helping Republican challenger Kevin Raye, Maine’s Senate president.
There also is a relatively large pool of undecided voters, 18 percent.
Alex Waite, 51, a Democrat who’s a paper mill worker from East Millinocket, said he may vote for the Republican this time, in part because of frustration with the economy and trade issues.
“I am disappointed in the way things went with (Michaud),” Waite said. “I vote for who I think will benefit me and my area” regardless of party, he said.
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]