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home : • politics : • government
January 27, 2020

11/6/2014 10:00:00 AM
Eye on Augusta: The Midcoast Is a Battleground Between the "Two Maines"
by Andy O’Brien

Although liberals had few victories to celebrate on Tuesday, the midcoast emerged from the electoral carnage as a bright spot for Democrats. At press time, Democratic or liberal independents are winning in 10 out of the 15 House races in Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties. It's a spread that will likely be crucial for Democrats in maintaining control of the state House of Representatives following a slew of incumbent defeats. With a handful of recounts, Republicans appear to have already won control of the state Senate by a 20-15 margin.

Perhaps the biggest shocker of the night was the incredibly strong showing by Democratic newcomer Jonathan Fulford of Monroe against Senate Republican Leader Mike Thibodeau of Winterport in Senate District 11. At press time, Thibodeau is up by just 110 votes with Prospect yet to report its numbers, but it will likely face a recount. This is not what political observers expected in the reliably Republican stronghold.

A polar opposite to the rock-ribbed conservative Thibodeau, Fulford ran an unabashedly progressive campaign centered around fair taxation, renewable energy investment, single-payer health care, raising the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid. A small farmer and builder by trade, Fulford settled in Monroe at the end of the back-to-the-land movement in the early '80s. It was a time when educated, liberal-minded people from around the country came to midcoast Maine for its cheap land and small-town community values. The new farmers, artists and retirees have since helped revive Belfast, which had been devastated by the collapse of the poultry industry. In the past decade, the Belfast and Searsport area has experienced some of the highest population growth rates in Maine at a time when the rest of the state is supposedly facing a "demographic winter."

For better or for worse, Waldo County is in the midst of a demographic transition as the "flatlanders" gradually begin to outnumber the more established, provincial Mainers. And in the case of the District 11 race, boths sides represented two very different approaches to politics. Thibodeau ran a traditional, paternalistic campaign emphasizing his position in the community as a "job creator" with big glossy signs reminding voters that his new snow shovel business employs people. By contrast, Fulford was backed by a mass movement that utilized sophisticated grassroots campaign strategies reliant on collaboration and community involvement. Fulford, with a core 300 volunteers, reportedly knocked on 8,443 doors in the district while his campaign staff knocked on 4,503 doors and made over 15,000 calls in support of the candidate. Thibodeau touted endorsements from business owners, a sheriff and other pillars of the community. Fulford's campaign represented a diverse coalition of progressive activists, retirees and small-scale, organic farmers.

Regardless of the outcome of the race, Waldo County is another example of how changing demographics are shifting the political landscape of Maine. Judging from the color-coded map of election returns, Maine has become a microcosm for the red state/blue state polarization that has gridlocked Congress and recently divided our state. The state's southern cities and coastal communities form the blue ring along a vast, rural, red interior of the "other Maine."

As the old, conservative guard that dominated coastal communities gets pushed out by liberal-minded transplants and the labor Democrats of the mill towns make way for a new brand of Tea Party conservative, it remains to be seen whether the state will go full-blown red state or give way to the crunchy, rural progressivism of places like Vermont. Either way, if Fulford's showing against the two-term Senator is any measure, the backlash in the "Moonbat Kingdom" is just a taste of things to come.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, November 7, 2014
Article comment by: Amy Fried

One piece of Maine left out is Bangor, which was all blue on Election Day and may be getting bluer. In 2010, two Democratic House seats and the Senate seat in Bangor flipped to Republican. That didn't happen in 2014.

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