A King in Afghanistan, a possible shift in the polls, and 7 stories you need to read

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, in a Blackhawk helicopter flying over Kabul during a two-day trip last weekend. Photo courtesy King's Senate office.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, in a Blackhawk helicopter flying over Kabul during a two-day trip last weekend. Photo courtesy King’s Senate office.

Maine’s junior senator, independent Angus King, was among the first members of Congress to meet with Afghanistan’s newly elected government this weekend during a six-day trip to to India and the Middle East.

King was joined on the trip by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia. Both senators are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Kaine also chairs a Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Near East and south and central Asia.

King thanked newly elected President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan CEO Dr. Abudllah Abdullah for establishing a unity government after a series of elections and prolonged recount this summer, and for quickly signing the Bilateral Security Agreement, a long-term deal that had languished for more than a year as President Barack Obama and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai struggled to come to terms.

According to Reuters, the deal will allow 12,000 foreign military personnel to stay in Afghanistan after 2014, when the combat mission of the U.S.-led NATO force ends. U.S. troops are expected to make up more than 80 percent of the remaining forces, who will will train and assist Afghan security forces in the war against the Taliban and its radical Islamist allies.

King and Kaine also visited U.S. troops, including members of Maine’s National Guard, and Afghan special forces in Kabul, Bagram Air Field and Camp Morehead, according to a news release from King’s senate office.

In India, King and Kaine met with senior Indian defense officials, and sought ways to continue improving relations between the U.S. and India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was formerly a persona non grata in the United States.

Governor’s race still close

And now your daily polling update: It’s hard to see it, but that chart up there shows a tiny polling shift in Gov. Paul LePage’s favor as he fends off challenges from Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler. That fact was pointed out to me by someone in LePage’s campaign, so if you’re paying attention to the race, you may end up seeing murmurs about it on social media today, too.

Real Clear Politics, which has been tracking polls for months, has long given Michaud a tiny advantage, well within the margin of error, as evidenced in the 30-day trend line above. The shift happened Oct. 11, probably a result of two polls released last week — one by Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS and one by Rasmussen — that offered snapshots of the race with the Republican in the lead.

This small — half a percent — shift doesn’t necessarily signal a monumental change in the shape of the race. other polls results released last by CBS and the New York Times showed Michaud ahead by 2 points.

This thing has been close for a while, and it’s likely going to stay close until Election Day. When a race is this tight, it’s normal for each contender to have poll results published that show them ever so slightly ahead. The small shift in the overall trend from a well-regarded aggregator like RCP is worth noting — even if we won’t know until Nov. 5 whether it was the beginning of a sea change or a blip on the radar.

7 stories you need to read

It’s 22 days until the polls open on Election Day. That means more and more Mainers — and BDN readers — are paying attention to politics. To get you caught up, here’sthe top 7 #mepolitics stories from last week.

  • Last week contained two of the five scheduled gubernatorial debates to feature all three candidates. The format hasn’t been conducive to much conversation between the candidates, and there haven’t been many surprises, but that hasn’t stopped LePage, Michaud and Cutler from trading a few jabs. –> Click here for my coverage of the first debate, and here for the story on the second.
  • During a visit to Maine last week, Michael Botticelli, the top U.S. drug policy official, said the state will receive $7.5 million to combat its growing addiction epidemic. The money will go toward treatment, not law enforcement. Click here for the story by Nick McCrea.
  • This story isn’t about Maine politics in the strictest sense of the word, but it is about a topic that’s come up in each gubernatorial debate so far, and will likely continue to be a campaign issue– the impending closure of the Verso paper mill in Bucksport. Beyond the loss of more than 500 jobs, the closure is likely to have ripple effects throughout Maine. Read more from Abigail Curtis, here.
  • While Verso is closing, ground was broken last week for a new tissue manufacturing plant in Baileyville. Gov. LePage was on hand to mark the occassion. The plant is expected to employ 80 people. Tim Cox’s account of the ground-breaking is here.
  • The state’s Republican and Democratic parties both filed ethics complaints last week, alleging that the other’s candidate for governor had improperly used their elected offices for political gain. The Ethics Commission was forced to take up the issue on Friday, and promptly threw out both complaints, with little discussion. Check out my story, here.
  • Lewiston is one of two cities that will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana this November. Advocates for the referendum are turning to a demographic they think will put them over the edge at the polls: Bates College students. The Sun Journal’s Scott Thistle has the story, here.
  • How many political ads have you seen so far this year? However many it is, brace yourself for more. PAC spending is on course to smash the records set in 2010 and become the most expensive election year in Maine history. Click here for more info, including some bang-up numbers by my partner in crime, Darren Fishell.


Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.