Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is widening a lead over Democratic challenger Emily Cain in the race to represent Maine’s 2nd District, according to a new poll by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Poliquin is now leading Cain by 10 percentage points among likely voters in the 2nd District, although the number of undecided voters has also increased slightly since June, according to the poll, which was conducted in September by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. The poll surveyed 231 likely voters in the 2nd District and has a margin of error of about 6 percent for the congressional race.

A poll in June by the Telegram showed the race to be virtually tied, with just a 1 percent gap between the candidates, while a poll by the Boston Globe and Colby College earlier this month showed a 5 percent gap.

At least one political observer said the widening gap in the House race could be linked to Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which is also pulling away from Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the more conservative-leaning 2nd District, according to the poll.

Overall, the new Telegram poll shows Poliquin leading Cain 45 percent to 35 percent, with 15 percent undecided and 5 percent supporting other candidates.

Poliquin’s lead seems fueled in part by him having stronger support among independent voters and those who are unenrolled with either major party, where he also edges Cain by 10 percentage points, according to the poll.

‘EMPHASIZING PARTISAN’ TIES

Maine is one of just two states nationwide in which the winner of the general election does not automatically take all of the electoral votes, which means Trump could walk away with at least one of Maine’s four electoral votes.

“The 2nd District seems to be increasingly partisan and conservative Republican, which could be driven by the national presidential race and specifically the Trump campaign,” said Ronald Schmidt Jr., associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine. “Basically, it’s driving voters to pay more attention and emphasizing partisan connections.”

Trump has made two recent campaign stops in Maine – one in Bangor and one in Portland – and also hired Gov. Paul LePage’s daughter, Lauren LePage, in August to help run his campaign in the state.

He currently leads Clinton by 15 percentage points in the 2nd District, according to the poll, sharply widening his 1 percent lead over the Democratic nominee in June. In the new Telegram poll, 14 percent of voters backing Poliquin said they’re Clinton supporters, while just 5 percent of those backing Cain are Trump supporters.

Gun rights emerges as factor

Another factor favoring Poliquin could be interest in Question 3, which would require background checks on private gun sales in Maine and has drawn intense opposition from gun-rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association. The poll showed more than 60 percent of respondents in the 2nd District are gun owners.

Cain, who supports Question 3, has the backing of just 31 percent of gun owners. Poliquin, who refused to publicly take a stance on the question but has received endorsements from the NRA and Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, has 53 percent of gun owners behind him, according to the poll.

In addition, while the new poll showed Question 3 winning statewide support, 61 percent to 33 percent, it’s a tighter margin in the 2nd District, where it wins just 52 percent to 42 percent.

Schmidt said another explanation for the shifting poll numbers is the timing, with less than two months until the Nov. 8 election.

“A lot of people aren’t really paying attention to elections in June, so this could just be the result of more voters paying closer attention and concentrating on the party they support,” Schmidt said.

It’s also rare for incumbent members of Congress running for re-election to not win because of advantages in name recognition and fundraising, although Cain did out-raise Poliquin in the latest quarterly campaign finance report.

CONTRAST AMONG RESPONDENTS

Mike Blier, a Democrat and small-business owner in Fort Fairfield who was a respondent in the new Telegram poll, said rural Maine desperately needs a minimum wage increase. He plans to vote for Emily Cain, who also supports a minimum wage increase, but said in general he feels disillusioned with the Democratic Party and isn’t motivated to head to the ballot booth.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Blier, 56. “I’ve been registered as a Democrat since I turned 18 and this is the first time since that day that I really am just discouraged enough that I don’t know if I will participate in the election process this year.”

LePage’s efforts at cutting welfare spending are also not helping, according to Blier, who said a minimum wage increase would go further toward increasing business in the 2nd District.

But Patricia McCauley, a Republican from Detroit who was also a respondent in the new Telegram poll, said she sees a lot of welfare recipients in the emergency room where she works as a nurse and the state needs to cut back. A Trump supporter, McCauley cited waning support for Clinton and questions about her health as contributing factors to the rise of Trump’s popularity in the 2nd District.

She said Poliquin is better suited to working with LePage, and possibly Trump, during the next two years. And while the poll showed that 80 percent of voters in the 2nd District said it makes little difference in their vote whether Poliquin endorses Trump or not – Poliquin has refused multiple times to explicitly say so – McCauley said she thinks it could help.

“It would be better if he would make a statement,” she said. “It would help voters decide and could help him get votes.”