As Portland (Maine) Goes, So Goes … the Nation?

For decades, Portland, Maine, the state’s largest city (population 66,000), has been more liberal and more Democratic than the rest of the Pine Tree State. But it wasn’t always the magnet for foodies or the home of upscale boutiques that attract a more affluent crowd.

While Maine elected a Republican governor and GOP majorities in the legislature in 2010, that political “wave” outcome is misleading. Democrats won the legislature back in 2012, and Republicans will have trouble holding the governorship in 2014.

If the state of Maine has been sliding toward the Democrats in most statewide elections over the past four or five decades, Portland has been leading the state’s move to the left.

In 1972, when Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern was drawing only 38.5 percent of the vote in Maine, he was doing somewhat better in Portland. McGovern lost the city to Richard Nixon but drew a respectable 47.6 percent of the vote — 9.1 points better than his statewide showing.

In contrast, McGovern carried the city of Lewiston (population 36,000) easily, with 62.2 percent of the vote. Maine’s second-largest city has had a strong Catholic, French Canadian flavor for decades, and its blue-collar economy started going downhill in the middle of the last century, when textile mills left the Northeast for the South.

Lewiston was reliably Democratic, and it didn’t echo the Nixon landslide in 1972. McGovern ran 23.7 points better in Lewiston than he did statewide.

By 2000, Portland and Lewiston had started to show that things were changing.

While Al Gore carried Maine by 5.1 points (49.1 percent to 44 percent) and had decisive wins in both Portland and Lewiston, the Democratic presidential nominee drew 63.4 percent in Portland but a smaller 61.1 percent in Lewiston.

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