Maine’s congressional districts split Tuesday over who should be elected president – with the gap between them growing since they first divided in 2016 – and over whether to send Susan Collins back to the U.S. Senate.

But election returns show that the “two Maines” – the wealthier, more educated, more densely populated south and the poorer, more rural interior and Down East coast – were both less keen on Donald Trump than they were four years ago, just with different intensities.

Trump’s margin of victory fell from 10 points to 7 points in the 2nd District, while first-term Democratic Rep. Jared Golden defeated Republican challenger Dale Crafts, a fervent Trump supporter, by 6 points. Trump lost several communities he won four years ago, including Auburn, a half dozen rural towns in the Fryeburg area, the Bangor suburb of Hampden, and Searsport and Stockton Springs on upper Penobscot Bay.

But the political gap between the districts widened all the same as Joe Biden’s margin hit 23 points in the 1st District, up from Hillary Clinton’s 15 points four years ago. Biden also flipped municipalities in his favor, including Sanford and Alfred in York County and Windham and Gray in Cumberland County.

The polarization partly reflects national trends, says Kevin Raye of Perry. A former chief of staff to Sen. Olympia Snowe, Raye ran thee times for the 2nd District’s U.S. House seat and was president of the Maine Senate.

“Right now if you look across the country, there is a gap between rural America and urban and suburban America, and I think that’s more powerful than partisan lines,” Raye says. “If you look at the demographics of the generic Trump voter nationally – rural, blue collar, lower income – the 2nd District fits.”


The two districts are distinct in this respect, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show. The 1st District is 51 percent rural, with an 8.9 percent poverty rate and a median household income of $67,392, roughly the same as New York state’s. The 2nd district is 69 percent rural, with a poverty rate of 13 percent and a household income of $51,202, about the same as Kentucky’s.

Forty percent of the 1st District’s roughly 680,000 residents graduated from college, and more than 267,000, or about 39 percent, were born out of state. Only 25 percent of the 650,000 residents in the 2nd District are college graduates, and fewer than 182,000, or about 28 percent, were born out of state. (Congressional districts are drawn to have comparable overall populations.)

The watershed political moment dividing the two districts – Maine, unlike all states except Nebraska, separately allocates Electoral College votes – came four years ago.

Maine’s 2nd District had voted for Barack Obama by wide margins in 2008 and 2012, and was represented by conservative Democrat Mike Michaud for 12 years ending in 2015. But like many other rural, overwhelmingly white districts in the parts of the country first colonized by New Englanders and their descendants, the 2nd District moved sharply to Trump in the last presidential election, giving him a 10-point margin of victory, even as the 1st District voted for Hillary Clinton by 15 points.

The shift was particularly dramatic in interior mill towns like Mexico and Rumford, neighboring paper manufacturing towns that went from supporting Obama by 41 percent in 2012 to Trump by 8 percent in both 2016 and 2020.

“Mexico was composed of dyed-in-the-wool union Democrats when I was growing up,” recalls Monica Wood, author of “When We Were the Kennedys,” a memoir about growing up in the town in the 1950s and 1960s, before it lost half its population and four-fifths of its mill jobs. “The mill is dwindling to a shadow of its former self, and it’s frightening and sad. People are just grabbing whatever work they can to just keep the lid from blowing off their lives.”


“People are hurting and scared and discouraged, and then Trump came along, and he has a natural instinct for drilling down into that, and it works,” Wood said.

The 1st District, with its ample waterfront property and transportation links to Boston and beyond, is changing too, with larger numbers of immigrants, wealthy retirees and young professionals, and many towns that are growing rather than shrinking.

“Experientially, just walking around and contrasting it to when I first moved to Maine in the 1990s, I feel like we’re seeing a lot of demographic change, and that is certainly part of what we’re seeing in politics,” says Ronald Schmidt, professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, who lives in Freeport. “In the 2nd District, you’re much more likely to find multigenerational family histories than in the first, and that may have to do with people finding Trump’s message more compelling, as he telegraphs and promotes a message of uncertainty and anxiety in the face of looming demographic and social change.”

The biggest difference between the two districts this year turned out to be their support for Collins, who is from Caribou in northern Maine, and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who represents Freeport in the state Legislature.

Of the 36 municipalities that gave Gideon a double-digit margin of victory, 30 were in the 1st District, and all of the rest were coastal towns in Waldo and Hancock counties, plus Orono. Collins, meanwhile, won Bangor, Brewer, Lewiston and Auburn, cities that voted for Biden and Golden on the same day.

“Even though partisan lines are more sharply drawn, there’s an independent spirit in Maine that’s still there and evidenced Tuesday with Maine going for Biden and Collins and the 2nd District for Trump and Golden,” says Raye, who supported Collins and Biden. “Susan winning, it certainly goes against the grain of what we’ve seen for Republican members of Congress across New England.”

“In contrast to other states, voters here still engage in split ticketing and if there’s any consistency in the results, it suggests to me that 2nd District late-deciders in the down ballot races decided to bank on incumbency in uncertain times, which is fairly Maine-ish behavior,” Schmidt said. “So we see Collins and Golden and Trump winning there.”

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