The Road to a Tied Election Runs Through Here - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Balloons take flight from Simard Payne Park at the Great Falls Balloon Festival in Lewiston, Maine.
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Folks should watch Maine to understand Democratic gains in 2020.

By Nick Fouriezos

  • Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which awards a single electoral vote, could send the presidential race to a 269-269 tie.
  • Still, the path for Donald Trump is narrow: Our exclusive election forecast gives Joe Biden an 84 percent chance of victory.

Lewiston is a mill town that no longer has any mills — unless you count those converted into seafood restaurants. Its downtown has a liberal arts college not far from a park full of veteran memorials along the edge of a rushing reservoir. Most of it feels like typical New England until you turn onto Lisbon Street, an international curveball dotted by Somali American businesses. The towns surrounding Lewiston, and further north, are classic Maine, full of farming co-ops, fishermen and hunters. “Demographically, parts of it are as liberal as Berkeley, California. And then you drive 45 minutes outside of the city, and you’re like, ‘Am I in Alabama?'” marvels Scott Tranter, a Republican data scientist and founder of the technology firm 0ptimus.

Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Lewiston, is massive, stretching to cover nearly all of Maine while forming the largest district east of the Mississippi by land area. It is disproportionately white and working class, one of the oldest districts in the nation and the second-most rural. And it holds a fascinating glimpse into Donald Trump’s gasping reelection effort, given that his sinking in the polls means that any path to victory will likely be excruciatingly close. While the state of Maine has voted Democrat for president in every election since 1988, each of its congressional districts awards one delegate — which means Maine’s 2nd Congressional District could determine whether Biden wins or Trump can force an upset.

Older, rural voters are critical constituencies for the president nationally. They showed up here in 2016, when Trump won the district by 10 percentage points. But with just three weeks until the election, there has been a major shift from four years ago. Beginning in July, polls started showing Biden in a statistical dead heat with Trump: Our OZY/0ptimus model now calls ME-2 a “toss-up” at basically a coins-flip’s chance either way. Overall, our predictive model — which crunches polls, demographic data, economic indicators and much more to predict this year’s elections — now gives Biden a 84 percent chance of Electoral College victory.

The numbers overall are grim for the GOP.

What’s more, the ME-2 congressional race is favoring Democrats more and more: Rep. Jared Golden, the freshman who won in 2018 by less than 1 point, is beating his Republican challenger Dale Crafts by nearly 20 points in some polls. “Golden is one of the House’s most moderate members and has not been afraid to buck his party line on controversial issues,” Tranter notes of one of the few Democrats to vote against an article of impeachment against Trump.

One positive sign for Trump is a recent poll showing him ahead for the first time since early September (although those results came from a little-known pollster and a sub-300-person sample size). That meant ME-2 was the only major shift in Trump’s favor in our model last week, showing the district’s potential for the president.

But the numbers overall are grim for the GOP. As the president appears to be losing his hold on seniors and rural voters, Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a key target for Democrats hoping to flip the Senate, now only has about a 33 percent chance of winning, according to our model.

For Trump, what difference does a solitary electoral vote make? “There are a number of scenarios early on which indicated that that one Electoral College vote could be critical in determining the winner or resulting in a tie,” University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer says. That’s right: a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College, which would send the race to a vote of state delegations in the House of Representatives — and could very well spark a constitutional crisis.

That situation appears less likely now that Biden has stretched his lead, and the toss-ups in our forecast include previously red states like Georgia and Iowa. However, if the polls contract to where they were in August, anything could happen.

Republicans say they remain confident that Trump can lead them to a 2016-style turnaround. Trump visited Maine in June, sent his son Don Jr. in September and has twice called to confer with GOP candidate Crafts, including last weekend, showing the importance he sees in the district. And there remains evidence of enthusiasm for the president. “I challenge you to take an eight-hour drive around the district, take out a notepad and count the Trump signs, the Biden signs, you see,” says former Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who lost to Golden in 2018.

“He has invested big in Maine,” adds Crafts, who suggests Trump himself could campaign in the district again with just days left in the race. This single electoral vote might be less enticing than, say, Florida’s 29. But when all roads to a Trump victory must come with an excruciatingly close margin, ME-2 may be worth the trip. At least he’ll see plenty of Trump signs.

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