In a dramatic political event certain to draw comparisons with the famous JFK election eve torchlight parade in Lewiston in 1960, President Clinton brought his whirlwind campaign to Bangor International Airport at 12:15 this morning, one day before Election Day. Clinton is so far ahead in his own race nationally and in Maine that his campaign advisers decided the president could afford to go shopping for a few more U.S. senators.
Looking fresh after a marathon day of campaigning on the eastern seaboard, Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd of supporters estimated at 4,000 gathered in a hangar: “This is the first rally of the last day of the last campaign I’ll ever run, and I’m glad to start it here with you.”
Clinton leads in Maine over Bob Dole by 46 percent to 35 percent, and he has set his sights on bringing Joseph E. Brennan to Washington with him, to occupy Republican Bill Cohen’s old seat. Weekend polling showed that Republican Susan Collins owned a 4 percent lead in the race, and between 20 percent and 25 percent of the Collins vote is composed of turncoat Democrats, the target of the Clinton visit.
Clinton said that he came to Bangor for three reasons: to thank the people of Maine, to urge them to vote for Brennan, and to emphasize what an important choice he said Americans are facing when they go to the polls Tuesday. He said that choice is not about whether a person is conservative or liberal, but “whether you believe we’re better off on our own, or if we believe we’re better off if we work together.”
He said that while he was traveling to Bangor he was thinking about the independence of Maine voters. “You don’t need me to tell you how to vote.” But he spoke warmly of his long friendship with Brennan, and said that in many conversations with him he’d realized how important the state is to the candidate. And he stressed how important each Senate seat will be, in a year when 34 seats are open and 17 of those races could go to either a Democrat or a Republican. Democrats need to gain three seats in order to have a majority.
The post-midnight raid was the first visit to Bangor by a sitting president since Jimmy Carter came on Feb. 17, 1978, to support the faltering campaign of Bill Hathaway (who lost to Cohen anyway).
Hundreds of people waited for hours in 28-degree weather to see the president.
Gillian Short of Bangor, who had a Baldacci sticker on her sweater, said that she was really excited to see the president. She’s 19, so this will be her first chance to vote in a presidential election. “I’ve never seen a president before!” she said, smiling.
Clinton last visited Maine On Oct. 7 when he attended a rally a Portland’s Hadlock Field.
Brennan asked Clinton to rearrange his schedule to make a return trip to Maine before heading to Manchester, N.H., for the night. The president’s campaign blitz leading into the final hours before the election took him Sunday from the warmth of Florida to Union, N.J., to Springfield, Mass., and Bangor before winding up early Monday in New Hampshire.
“President Clinton and Joe Brennan first became friends when they served as governors together,” Brennan spokesman Todd Webster told The Associated Press. “The visit by Clinton emphasizes the importance of this Senate race and the depth of the friendship between Clinton and Brennan.”
Brennan has had a slew of high-powered Democratic visitors campaigning with him recently. On Friday, Vice President Al Gore appealed to hundreds of people attending a rally in Portland to get out the vote to elect a Democratic Congress. Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Orono and Portland a week ago for her second visit to the state during the fall campaign. And Jesse Jackson was scheduled to appear at a rally and news conference Monday morning with Brennan.
The presidential visit might not help Brennan any more than the last one helped Hathaway, said Collins campaign manager Bob Tyrer. The visit could be seen as a “last-minute, desperate rescue mission … which could help us in the end,” Tyrer said.
“Midnight madness,” state GOP Chairman Kevin Keogh said Sunday. “Maine people are capable of making up their own mind, and they are also able to tell when a candidate is staggering to the finish line. After more than a dozen visits boosting Brennan by out-of-state notables, Susan is still leading the race.”
Brennan has been praying for a last-minute push to win his hard-fought campaign. “I think the race is very, very tight,” he said. “I think it’s a dead heat, too close to call. With Clinton coming here I think there is great excitement, great momentum going our way. The spirits are high.”
The veteran Democratic governor and congressman said, “This campaign is either about turning back the clock with Dole, Kemp and Collins or building a bridge to the future with Clinton, Gore and Brennan. They want to cut Medicare, education, and the environment in order to build a pile of money to fund a tax cut for the wealthy. The polls are within the margin for error and I think the president’s visit will be a tremendous boost. Clinton and I are on the same page.”
Brennan is attracting far fewer voters in Maine than President Clinton. “That is because Dole is doing no campaign in Maine and Collins is spending $2 for every $1 we spend,” Brennan said. The campaign is frustrated by an inability to pull away from the far less experienced Collins. “She has a lot of resources,” Brennan said.
But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men — even the president — can’t pull this one out for Brennan, according to Tyrer. “I don’t think this is going to make any difference. When you stop and look at two visits by the president, two by the first lady, two by Al Gore, visits by Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, Barney Frank, Sarah Brady, Jesse Jackson and some model I never heard of … with all of that we are still ahead. Voters know that Joe voted 93 percent with the party line when he was in Congress and they prefer the independence that Susan would have,” he said.
Collins retains support of one in four or one in five Democrats, and “Joe has focused his whole campaign on getting his base back. It is not happening. If it hasn’t happened now, it never will,” Tyrer said.