In close presidential races, Maine is batting 0-7

15 years ago

By Paul Mills
    We enter the final month of the campaign at a time of domestic uncertainty greater than in any presidential election since the Great Depression, when the nation gave its mandate to FDR.  The nation also is experiencing a sense of urgency unmatched in any White House contest election since World War II when Roosevelt was again given a commanding majority.
    It’s different this time. It’s a crisis without a clear consensus on who should lead us. The nation is divided. We’re possibly headed for another close election, our third in row. How then should Mainers predict the outcome? What does history tell us on this extraordinary occasion?
    Maine once abided the slogan, “As Maine Goes, So Goes the Nation.” The expression was first popularized after the elections of l840 when we voted for a Whig for Governor in September, two months ahead of the November national elections when the country elected its first Whig president.
    From the l860 election of Lincoln until the FDR era Maine lived up to its “So Goes the Nation” motto in fifteen of eighteen presidential elections. Though this usually meant voting Republican we also joined the nation in favoring a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, in the l9l2 contest.
    After l9l2, Maine embarked on a different course than the rest of the nation. In the seven closest presidential elections since that time we have voted for the loser in each one. No other state has such a record. We still then have at least a correlation to the national result, even if it’s an inverse one. A look at these seven races tells us how Maine voting set itself apart from the national results and illustrates its interplay with the balloting for other offices.
    1916: President Wilson in l9l6 went to bed thinking he had lost the election not just because Charles Evans Hughes beat him in Maine but also because Hughes had also done well elsewhere. Late night returns showing an unexpected upset by Wilson in California gave him a razor edged triumph. The Maine presidential vote was nevertheless consistent with how the state voted for its own offices, two months earlier. The state restored Republicans to the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat as well as the legislature, after a brief reign of Democrats in the same positions.
    1948: By l948 the famous Chicago Tribune headline faux pas “Dewey Beats Truman,” held true enough for Maine. Tom Dewey — a look alike for the mustached groom atop the wedding cake — won the state by l4-percent. Not so with the rest of the country, where Truman held a four point lead.
    1960: We were Nixon’s sixth strongest state in l960, bestowing 57% of the vote on Ike’s vice-president. It was JFK, though, who narrowly won the national vote. This was the first time Mainers went to the polls for state elections – which used to be in September – the same day they voted for president. It was, like l9l6, also a come-back year for Maine Republicans, who won all five of the major Maine based elections even though they had lost nearly all of them since l954.
    1968: In l968 we would have joined the rest of the nation in narrowly favoring Nixon, had not Hubert Humphrey tapped popular Maine Senator Ed Muskie as his running mate. Muskie’s coattails also helped sweep the two incumbent Democrats to re-election for the U.S. House seats. Republicans maintained continued though weakened control of the legislature, an historic one that would enact the income tax, now Maine’s leading source of revenues.
    1976: In l976 we gave a one point edge to GOP President Ford, who lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter by two percent nationally. Ticket splitting was Maine’s order of the day that year. At the same time the state voted for a Republican president it awarded Democrats two of the three Congressional contests, re-elected a GOP state senate but retained a John Martin led Democratic House.
    2000: The 2000 race, the most hairbreadth electoral vote ever, also saw Maine parting company with the national outcome. In voting for Gore the state was nevertheless in line with the national popular vote. That the state again could not pick a party favorite was illustrated by the state senate outcome in its first 21st century election, evenly divided between the GOP and the Democrats at l7 apiece.
    2004: In the most recent presidential election, Maine was still a bit out of step with the overall result. That was in 2004 when the state gave a nine point lead to Senator Kerry while the country at large voted to re-elect President Bush. Characteristic of a national decline in split ticket voting, however, Maine followed up on its Democratic vote for president with voting that also favored Democrats in the two Congressional races and preferred Democratic state legislative candidates.
    Recent polls in Maine are somewhat inconclusive on the coming presidential race, though show Senator Obama with a slim lead. Will the jinx of voting for the loser in another close presidential election recur? Certainly the parties themselves do not have faith in it. If they did, they would seek to lose rather than win the state!
    Maine has three reasons its votes matter more than most. First, is the electoral college system. Smaller states like Maine have more electoral votes per capita than the larger ones. Second, TV ads do not cost as much here as they do in the more populous states. Third, Maine, especially the northern or second district, is seen as a competitive arena. Look for the major parties to make a play for the state’s votes.
    They still count.
    Paul H. Mills is a Farmington attorney well known for hisanalyses and historical understanding of Maine’s political scene. He can be reached by e-mail at