Maine’s Rebellious Swing Towns

On the night of any election, observers always want to know how the contest is swinging early.  One of the best ways to get a sense how the night is turning out for the prospective candidates is to look at the “swing towns” – Maine’s own gubernatorial bellwethers.

In the past 20 years – that is the last five gubernatorial contests – there have been a total of twenty-six towns in the state of Maine which have swung for the winner of the Governor’s race every single time.  In other words, there are twenty-six towns that voted for John Baldacci in 2006, John Baldacci in 2002, Angus King in 1998, Angus King in 1994 and Jock McKernan in 1990.

These towns have a history of voting for whoever the heck they want to, be it Democrat, Republican or Independent.  You’ll find an interesting mix of voting patterns for presidential elections, Senatorial contests, gubernatorial races and of course the state legislature.

The towns you want to watch for on election night – Maine’s swing towns – are:

  • Bath
  • Belfast
  • Bremen
  • Camden
  • Castle Hill
  • Deer Isle
  • Freedom
  • Frenchboro
  • Greenwood
  • Hammond
  • Islesboro
  • Jonesport
  • Lincolnville
  • Machiasport
  • Monroe
  • Monson
  • Montville
  • Newcastle
  • North Haven
  • Northport
  • Oakland
  • Ogunquit
  • Readfield
  • St. George
  • Stockton Springs
  • Wayne

Click to enlarge

The interesting thing about these towns is that they are clustered – mostly – in generally the same area.  These are not towns running up and down I-95 for the most part – these are coastal towns, specifically in the region of Maine commonly called the mid-coast (bleeding a little bit into “down east“).

Indeed a full ten of the twenty-six “swing towns” are to the coast, south-west of Mount Desert Island in the various bays (East Penobscot, West Penobscot, Belfast, etc) that cut into central Maine’s coast.  Four more (St. George, Bremen, Newcastle and Bath) are also on the coast, just further south of the biggest cluster.  Many of the remaining sixteen towns are slightly inland of those coastal towns (Monroe, Montville, Freedom, etc), close enough to be neighbors.

Three more of the “swing towns” are on the coast outside the mid-coast region.  Ogunquit is almost as far south as you can go in Maine, while Jonesport and Machiasport are on the down-east coast on the far eastern side of Maine.  The number of coastal cities that represent swing territories is pretty remarkable.

There are, of course, a few oddities like Monson and Hammond which are land locked northern Maine towns – but by and large, the towns that tell us the most are along coastal route 1 in the central coast, not along I-95 in the “heart” of Maine.

So as you watch the returns come in on election night, pay special attention to these towns and see who they are breaking for.

But have they already given us an indication of how they – and with them the rest of the state – might vote November 2nd?  Let’s take a gander at the returns from the primary and see what those results might hint at:

These results clearly show just how swing these swing towns are.  The Democrats showed a slight turnout advantage (by about 400 votes) in the primary, while the raw vote totals for Paul LePage beat those of Libby Mitchell.  Republicans had higher turnout in 14 of the 26 towns, and Paul LePage gained more votes than Libby Mitchell (in a more fractured primary) in 16 out of the 26 towns.

Interestingly – and I’m not even sure what this tells us – only one town, Machiasport, saw a Republican turnout advantage while simultaneously seeing Libby Mitchell earn more raw votes than LePage.  Five towns (Readfield, Newcastle, Lincolnville, St. George and Camden) saw a Democratic turnout edge, but with Paul LePage earning more votes.  Pull from that whatever you will.

Long story short?  Turnout was more or less even among the parties, and the votes each of the nominees pulled was just about even.  It seems that the unenrolled voters will – in all likelihood – be the deciding factor in where these swing towns swing.  This would seem to suggest to me – at least in a very superficial way – that the race is going to be close and was always going to be close, regardless of the size of anyone’s lead in the polls.

In any event, these are the towns to watch on election night if you want to get a sense of who is going to win the election.  Keep an eye out.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.