Sanders, Clinton, Trump lead presidential field in Maine poll

In the first public poll of the 2016 presidential race in Maine, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are tied for the Democratic nomination, while Donald Trump is 10 points ahead of the rest of the Republican field.

The biggest news in the poll of 600 Mainers, released Thursday by Portland firm Critical Insights: It said more than two-thirds of respondents backed a minimum wage increase and six out of 10 are behind a proposed national park in the Millinocket region.

But I’ve speculated in this newspaper that among Democratic delegates in Maine, Sanders, a progressive Vermont senator, could pose a real threat to Clinton, who is essentially the party’s presumptive nominee.

Now, there are numbers to back that up: In the poll, Sanders had support from 28 percent of Democratic voters to Clinton’s 27 percent, within the poll’s 4 percent margin of error.

However, something interesting is also happening in the Republican field, where Maine is going with candidates who have no experience in elected office: Trump, the billionaire New York City businessman who’s leading national polls, had support from 23 percent of party voters in the Maine poll.

That was 10 points ahead of second-place finisher Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, who has now settled into second place nationally as well. Republicans Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor and one of the party establishment’s favorites, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina were well behind at 6 percent in Maine.

All of this is bad news for the Republican establishment, but all of this benefits from some context: At this time in 2012, businessman Herman Cain was besting eventual nominee Mitt Romney in primary polls, so a lot remains to be seen before voting starts in February. — Michael Shepherd

Question 1 opponents overreach

Earlier this week, Gun Owners of Maine, a gun-rights group, waded into the debate over Question 1, an election reform effort on the November ballot, by posting this graphic on Facebook.

It links the question, which would increase funding under the Maine Clean Election Act — which allows qualifying candidates to get small-dollar contributions to qualify for taxpayer money to run campaigns, during which other private money can’t be used — to Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland and Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick.

Both have used the Clean Election program and support gun control measures — Alfond proposed limiting the capacity of ammunition clips in 2013 and Gerzofsky, a proponent of expanded background checks before gun purchases, clashed with other members of a legislative committee on guns two years ago.

But the graphic is wrong about Question 1’s spending effects. While the law would boost the Clean Election program’s annual allocation from $4 million to $6 million and greatly expand the amount of money available to candidates, “taxes” aren’t increasing by 300 percent.

Now, Senate candidates in general elections are capped at about $25,000 in public and private money under the law. Question 1 would cap them at $65,000 — an increase of 159 percent — but they would have to do a lot of work to get there.

A general election candidate would get an initial $20,000 in public money for qualifying for the program, but they would have to get 45 more qualifying contributions to get another $5,000, and they would have to do that eight times to hit the cap. To qualify for the program and hit the cap, a candidate would need 535 small-dollar donations, according to the Maine Ethics Commission.

Over the years, the Clean Election program has also been used by politicians of all stripes, including Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, who has emerged as one of the faces of Question 1 opposition.

There are plenty of arguments against public campaign financing — which only 13 states have, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — but this one doesn’t wash. We’ll see how the arguments shake out through Election Day. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Lincoln Chafee? Lincoln Chafee.

If you’re like me, you were wondering why a man named Lincoln Chafee was at CNN’s Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday.

OK, I knew the former Rhode Island governor — a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat — has had a distinguished career and is technically in the race. But while he challenged Clinton on foreign policy matters, he didn’t look comfortable or good on the debate stage.

So, here’s a video of some of his more cringe-worthy moments set to a laugh track for your Friday. — Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.