Off Mic Blog: Trump's Visit to Small Maine Town Highlights Unorthodox Campaign

Oct 28, 2016

Editor’s note: Off Mic is a blog about things you might have missed in Maine politics. It’s a place for those news tidbits that aren’t quite a story, or that were part of story but were hacked out by a thoughtless editor.

Leftovers from the notebook while wondering if rallies are a good substitute for a ground game ... 

You may have heard: Donald Trump is expected to visit Maine for the fifth time Friday when he holds a rally at the Open Door Christian Academy in Lisbon. That's Lisbon, population 9,009, according to the U.S. Census -- the same Lisbon nestled on the southern edge of the 2nd Congressional District. The gymnasium holds 1,500 people, according to school officials. 

All of these little details may seem perplexing given the big picture of Trump's path to victory. Yes, some models indicate that Maine's 2nd Congressional District could play an outsized role in the election. But that role is dependent on Trump winning some larger swing states. And, if recent battleground polls are to be believed, the Republican has a lot of work to do in those bigger, more consequential states. 

Then there's the issue of Trump's get-out-the-vote efforts, which at the moment, seem to be driven by Twitter as much as his communications strategy:

For example, the Washington Post recently discovered that Hillary Clinton has 22 field offices in Arizona. Trump? Zero. Although campaigns can certainly overstate the number of operational field offices, there's no overstating why the offices are important. They're basically the nerve center for voter mobilization.

Speaking of which, this is the time of year that party activists are getting constant calls to volunteer, knock on doors and make phone calls. Maybe I've missed them, but I haven't seen a lot of those communications this year from the Maine Republican Party, which had a gangbusters turnout operation just two years ago. Maybe Trump is doing things differently, but if he is, it's happening quietly. 

That said, his visit to Lisbon Friday does align with his unorthodox campaign. Once again he'll get wall-to-wall media coverage and he's doubling up a northern New England swing with another stop in New Hampshire. Plus, he gets an intimate setting at Open Door to address Christian voters, a key constituency that have repeatedly punched above their weight in Maine.  

National spotlight on ranked choice voting

You may have noticed that an effort to install ranked choice voting - Question 5 on this year's ballot - is attracting a lot of national media attention. The Washington Post wrote about it last week, there have been letters in the New York Times and coverage elsewhere.

We can now add Nate Silver's crew at FiveThirtyEight to the list of the curious (or skeptical). This week Silver and his team devoted about 10 minutes weighing the pros and cons of the voting system on their elections podcast. Here it is (the RCV discussion begins about 20 minutes in).

Time will tell if all this national attention will increase awareness for Question 5, which may be the campaign's biggest obstacle at this point.

POTUS goes down ballot

Waaay down ballot. It was easy to miss, but President Obama has endorsed state Sen. David Miramant's reelection bid. This would seem like a no-duh news, or maybe not even news. Obama's a Democrat, Miramant's a Democrat. So what?

It's true Obama's effort here may not be hugely impactful, but his national effort to back 150 state house candidates indicates that he, and maybe the Democratic National Committee, have finally realized that the last eight years have been pretty good for Obama and Democrats' focus on winning the White House, but not so good for Democrats in state legislatures and gubernatorial contests.

Republicans control 60 percent of the state legislative chambers and 64 percent of all governor's mansions. This is a big change from less than 10 years ago - or when Obama was first elected. Republicans only controlled 36 chambers prior to the GOP's 2010 wave election. That means the GOP has doubled its influence over just the past six years. 

Why is that important? Because state legislatures are increasingly important in germinating sweeping national policy changes. This is especially true since Congress can't seem to get much done. This renewed focus has also been linked to the explosion in spending on legislative races in Maine and elsewhere. According to data by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, independent expenditures - that is money spent by groups with unlimited spending power to influence elections - more than doubled from 2006 and 2014, from $139 million to $290 million. 

Democrats have been getting clobbered in this states-level battle. Obama's involvement suggests they're trying to reverse that trend. 

Tip of the Spear 

The politics desk at National Public Radio asked political reporters at member stations to send along quirky ads by down-ballot candidates. Of course, the local submission was this ad by Mark Holbrook, the Republican candidate challenging U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

And he made the cut!