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Pulse Newsletter: Election Postscript


We’ve written — and spoken — tons about Maine’s historic election and the outcomes it produced this week.

If you missed any of those, you can find a good sampling here, here, here, here and here.

For that reason there will be no lengthy, navelgazing postmortem this week — and you’re probably too tired to read it anyway.

Instead, here’s an assortment of short observations, statistics and questions to consider while looking back and ahead:

Split-ticket voters: They exist and in greater numbers than we’re often led to believe. Consider: Former Vice President Joe Biden carried Maine with 425,962 votes. Many of those same voters also chose Republican Sen. Susan Collins (410,152 votes), who secured her fifth term after a long, bitter contest against leading challenger Sara Gideon, who actually received 15,962 fewer votes than President Donald Trump (355,411 votes).

Gideon’s policy platform: It wasn’t much different than Biden’s, so why didn’t her vote share track with the Democratic Party’s standard bearer? Well, there are clearly limits to nationalizing a race, which Gideon’s campaign repeatedly tried to do by trying to handcuff Collins to Trump. Plus, Collins deftly made the race local by talking up what she’s done in the Senate. You can quibble with her claims all day, but a majority of Maine voters believed them and it’s safe to assume that many of them worried that jettisoning a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Senate for a relatively unknown speaker of the Maine House of Representatives wasn’t worth the risk.

Credit Murray Carpenter / For Maine Public
For Maine Public

Unanswered question: How many Collins-Biden voters split their ticket because they believed Biden would easily beat Trump and they were fearful of giving Democrats complete control in Washington?

Followup: How many of those same voters will be upset with the results of a deadlocked, “do nothing” Congress?

Headline from Axios on Thursday: “GOP Senate wins wreak havoc on Biden transition plans”

A GOP-controlled Senate is not yet a sure thing: As of Thursday, Democrats and Republicans had each secured 48 seats with four races still undecided in Alaska, North Carolina and two in Georgia. One of the two Georgia Senate races will be decided by a runoff election in January and the second race was headed in that direction.

The polls were wrong both locally and nationally: They were really wrong in Maine. The requisite calls for an industry reckoning has begun. But maybe the problem isn’t just the polls, or annoying prediction models produced by warring statisticians. Maybe it’s the unrealistic expectations the news, the public — and yes, some operatives — have assigned to surveys that inherently aren’t supposed to be predictive. Polls are a snapshot, a sometimes flawed collection of data that may or may not capture late movement in a race, or even the most salient issues influencing a contest.

Can’t recall: a single public poll question about the U.S. Senate race in Maine that asked respondents if they were worried about single-party control of Washington.

Credit Rebecca Conley / Maine Public
Maine Public

Also can’t recall: a single public poll question that asked respondents if they were worried ditching Collins would mean less federal aid for Maine.

You know who else uses polls? Political operatives and campaigns. They use them to make messaging and investment decisions. The same goes for outside groups that spend money attempting to influence races. Presumably it was poor polling performances that prompted Republican outside groups to bail on GOP House candidate Dale Crafts, who was trying to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in the 2nd Congressional District. Those groups might be wishing they stuck around given that Golden ended up winning by six points instead of the double-digit margins shown in several polls this fall.

Golden’s contest with Crafts: It was eclipsed by the U.S. Senate race, but it’s worth noting that the Democrat survived when a lot of his freshmen colleagues from the 2018 midterms didn’t. While there was a lot of talk in October about Democrats expanding their majority in the House, which is why Democratic and GOP outside groups pulled out of Golden’s race at the same time. It turns out that Democrats would have been better served playing more defense. As of Thursday, Republicans had netted six additional seats to narrow their deficit in the House. There are more than 30 races undecided, but Democrats are projected to retain their majority — albeit a smaller one than they had hoped.

Speaking of smaller majorities: Democrats in the Maine House will also have fewer members next session than they do now. Republicans are estimating they picked up about 10 seats, which is pretty good considering that they gave Democrats 24 uncontested seats by not fielding candidates.

Democrats in the Maine Senate: They fared better than their counterparts in the House. Their 22-13 majority is their largest since 1986.

$2.9 million: That’s how much money outside groups spent attempting to influence Maine legislative contests this year.

$2.5 million: That’s how much the Collins and Gideon campaigns combined to spend on fundraising services or consultants during the U.S. Senate race. Collins’ campaign spent $2 million, while Gideon spent more than $542,000.

$133 million: That’s how much money outside groups spent trying to influence the U.S. Senate contest.

$0: That’s how much money the Collins’ campaign paid former News Center Maine TV reporter Bill Green to star in its commercials, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Green is getting a lot of credit — and criticism — for his efforts, but he was arguably more effective than the ominous, sepia-toned hit pieces commissioned by the aforementioned outside groups.

Correction: Susan Collins has been in the Senate for 24 years, not 26.

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