October 2, 2012

Marriage warriors study lay of the land

Vote tallies from 2009 may show them where in Maine their strength lies. Or 2012 could surprise them.

By SUSAN M. COVER Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-day series of stories drawing on the results of a statewide poll commissioned by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram on the major candidates and issues on the Maine ballot Nov. 6.

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Louis Burnham, 80, a parking enforcement supervisor in Boothbay Harbor, says he’s “from the old school” on the issue of same-sex marriage.

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Vicki Reinecke, 57, says she feels there’s been a change since 2009 in how same-sex marriage is viewed in Boothbay Harbor.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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THE POLL AT A GLANCE

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll was conducted by Critical Insights, a Portland-based opinion research firm.

It follows a similar poll conducted in June and was designed to measure trends in opinions and voter sentiments and track the rise and fall of candidates and campaigns. In both cases, the polls produced more than 100 pages of data tables which the Press Herald analyzed to produce articles, print and online graphics and to guide coverage of the elections.

For the latest poll, Critical Insights called 618 likely voters around the state from Sept. 12 through Sept. 16. It used random landlines and cellphones and conducted live personal interviews. An additional 100 women were polled to provide deeper data on women's perspectives on key issues.

The results were statistically weighted to reflect the demographics of the state's voting population. Results were weighted by gender, age, region of residence and political affiliation.

The poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points for results based on the entire sample, with larger margins for subgroups such as independent voters or older voters.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

SUNDAY: Key poll results in the election for president, the U.S. Senate, Congress and the same-sex marriage referendum.

TODAY: The same-sex marriage poll results and returns from the 2009 repeal referendum suggest where the battlegrounds lie across Maine.

TUESDAY: Sharp distinctions that reflect “the two Maines” concept emerge from poll results in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts.

BOOTHBAY HARBOR - Louis Burnham was born and raised in this seaside town, and says he's "from the old school" when it comes to same-sex marriage.

Vicki Reinecke was born and raised here, too, and supports allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Burnham, 80, and Reinecke, 57, show the two sides of the divide over the issue in this town where shipbuilders and lobstermen live among artists, shop owners and tourists.

In 2009, the last time Mainers voted on gay marriage, 565 residents of Boothbay Harbor voted to support it and 563 opposed it.

It was one of the closest margins in the state in the referendum that overturned a law allowing gay marriage. Supporters of gay marriage won only four counties -- Cumberland, Hancock, Knox and York -- and lost 12 others, including Lincoln County, home to Boothbay Harbor.

Mainers will vote on the issue again Nov. 6, when they will decide on a proposal to make it legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry.

As he leaned against a mailbox last week while working as the town's parking enforcement supervisor, Burnham, a former selectman and grocery store owner, said he expects the vote to be close again in Boothbay Harbor.

"I'm from the old school," he said. "I believe in men and women, husband and wife. I know it's a big issue today."

Reinecke, who works at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, said she senses a change in town. She noticed it last fall, when she spotted a woman at a table gathering signatures on a petition in support of gay marriage.

"I was impressed at how much traffic was going her way," she said, as she shopped at Boothbay Region Greenhouses. "In 2009, there seemed to be more fear perhaps, but I don't sense that now and I don't know what they were afraid of. People are afraid of change."

As both sides of the campaign ramp up for Election Day, just five weeks from Tuesday, the 53-47 percent spread from 2009 continues to inform their strategy.

Matt Hutson, campaign director for Protect Marriage Maine, the lead opponent of gay marriage, has lined the walls of his office with chart after chart showing the vote totals from 2009. He knows where the vote against gay marriage was strong -- 73 percent in Aroostook County and 66 percent in Somerset County -- and where it was not.

Gay marriage was approved with 60 percent support in Cumberland County, where 73 percent of Portland voters backed it.

Carroll Conley of Protect Marriage Maine said gay-marriage opponents are looking at trends in voting patterns not just from 2009, but from the presidential election in 2008 and the governor's race in 2010. They think they can do at least as well, if not better, in places like Penobscot County, where they won with 59 percent support in 2009.

"Those numbers are very much on our minds," he said. "We're very encouraged by what we're seeing in those campaigns."

Conley, who was not involved in the 2009 campaign, said he was surprised to see how close the vote was in York County, where just 145 votes separated "yes" and "no."

Gay-marriage advocates won in York County that year, just barely.

They say there are two big differences between 2009 and this year. This is a presidential election year, while 2009 featured only referendum questions on the statewide ballot, so turnout is expected to be considerably higher than the 58 percent who voted three years ago.

(Continued on page 2)

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