Presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry would handily defeat President Bush in Maine if the election were held this spring, according to a poll released Friday to the Bangor Daily News.
The survey, conducted by the Portland-based research firm Critical Insights, found that in a head-to-head race, 49 percent of Mainers were likely to vote for Kerry compared to 39 percent for Bush. The remainder were either undecided or favored another candidate.
“I think it says people are not happy with the way things are going,” said Critical Insights head MaryEllen FitzGerald, noting the poll’s unusually low number – 34 percent – of people with a favorable opinion of the incumbent president.
The random survey of 600 Mainers has a 4 percent margin of error and was administered between April 23 and May 20. Ninety-two percent of those surveyed identified themselves as registered voters.
In a battleground state such as Maine, the gap between Bush and Kerry will close as the election nears, most pundits agree. Nevertheless, the early spread came as welcome news to the Kerry camp.
“It’s been 31/2 years, and George W. Bush has yet to answer the fundamental questions people in Maine care about,” said Kerry’s Maine spokesman, Jesse Derris, citing increased health care costs and continued turmoil in Iraq. “[Bush] still owes a lot of answers to the people of Maine.”
Maine is considered one of 17 battleground states in the 2004 presidential election because of its independent voting history and the slim margin by which Bush lost the state in 2000.
Among Maine’s independent voters – who outnumber both Republicans and Democrats – 45 percent said they were likely to support Kerry, compared to 34 percent for Bush, according to the poll.
Thomas Fortin, a registered independent from Bangor, said he would support Bush only if he replaced running mate Vice President Dick Cheney with Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Absent that, he said he was leaning toward Kerry – but with little enthusiasm.
“I don’t think Kerry’s anything special, but I do think we need to go in a different direction,” Fortin said Friday.
The poll held little good news for the president, with Mainers saying Kerry would do a better job on improving education, health care and – perhaps most importantly this election season – the economy.
Although respondents found Kerry would make wiser decisions about foreign policy, they did say Bush would do a better job of defending the country from future terrorist attacks.
Bush campaign officials saw the poll as incentive to focus their efforts in the five months leading up to Election Day.
“Of course the most important poll is in November, but what this poll tells us is we have to work hard to get our message out,” said Bush campaign spokesman Kevin Madden. “We have to continue to make our case that the president’s leadership is exactly what the country needs in the next four years.”
The Bush campaign intensified that effort Friday, buoyed by a new Department of Labor report showing the addition of 248,000 jobs nationwide in May as well as improvement in several other economic areas.
While the poll held good news for the Massachusetts Democrat, it did not bode well for Maine’s Democratic governor, whose job approval rating dropped to 54 percent – an 18-point decline from late last year.
Lee Umphrey, spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci, attributed the drop to the sometimes unpopular budget cuts the governor was required to make to steady the state’s economic course.
“When you have to make hard choices and spread the pain out to everybody, it’s not surprising that it’s reflected in the polls,” Umphrey said. “But at the same time, I think people appreciate the decisions he’s made.”