Maine’s Swing District

According to Real Clear Politics polling averages, the “must-win” state of Ohio is currently the eighth most competitive presidential contest in the country, with an advantage towards President Obama of 5.6 percentage points. On their chart Wisconsin is the next most competitive, with a 7.8-point margin in favor of Obama. There’s something missing from the list, however, right between these two swing states: Maine’s swing district.

Maine, like Nebraska, apportions its Electoral College votes partially by Congressional District, meaning that one presidential candidate could win the majority of votes in the state and pick up three electoral votes while a different candidate could win a majority in one of Maine’s two districts and pick up the fourth. This has never actually happened since Maine switched to the apportionment system in 1972.

There have been only two recent public polls, by MPRC and Critical Insights, that have released presidential numbers by Congressional District. These results have a bit higher margin of error than statewide totals, but according to the information we do have, President Obama is ahead in the Second District by only about six points. While this is a significant lead, it isn’t much higher than Obama’s four-point lead nationally, putting Maine’s Second District in the company of a few swing states like the Ohio and Wisconsin that could be right on the line if the race becomes more competitive.

What mostly prevents Maine’s Second from getting as much attention as these swing states (in addition to the lack of polling) is its size. With only one electoral vote, it’s much less likely than Ohio to swing an election.

That’s not to say it couldn’t happen though. In fact, Nate Silver rates Maine’s CD2 as the 14th most-likely “tipping point state,” which is not a reference to this blog but in fact a measure of how likely it is to be a deciding factor in the election. This puts the District right behind Michigan, with its 17 electoral votes.

Maine’s CD2 is 10th, right behind Florida, in another of Silver’s measures, the “return on investment index,” which tracks how much influence an individual state voter has in deciding the outcome of the election.

The Romney campaign seems to be paying attention. They’ve announced that they’re ramping up their effort in the Second and at an event with National GOP Chair Reince Priebus in Westbrook last week, they revealed that volunteers at the campaign office there are making calls into the second District rather than canvassing their neighbors in the first (I’m sure a disappointment for First District Republican Congressional Candidate Jon Courtney).

All of this is not to say that the vote in the Second will be close on Election Day. In fact, the results in Maine would only have a chance at mattering at all if Mitt Romney were able to improve his position nationally by several points. In addition, Obama won in CD2 by 11 points in 2008 despite polls showing a closer race, and the Second’s history and demographics are favorable to Democrats. A Congressional race that seems to be less competitive than initially thought may also decrease the attention paid here and the competitiveness of the vote.

But don’t let anyone tell you that Northern, Central, Western and Eastern Maine doesn’t matter in a Presidential election. Tell them that we’re just like Ohio, except with more trees and fewer electoral votes.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald