fb-pixel Skip to main content

For swing-district Mainers, the debate wasn’t a turning point. It was an ‘embarrassment’

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden met during the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday night. Chris Wallace moderated.Scott Olson/Getty Images

To voters living in New England’s biggest swing district, the first presidential debate on Tuesday was an “embarrassment” and a “debacle” and, well, “kind of crazy.” Most said it was difficult to watch. Others purposely avoided tuning in.

What it wasn’t: something that changed their mind.

In Maine’s northern reaches, the chaotic, norm-breaking event did little to alter the opinions of voters who could help swing the presidential race, their feelings for either former vice president Joe Biden or President Trump seemingly hardened by the televised 90-minute spectacle, according to interviews Wednesday.

The Globe spoke with more than a dozen likely voters in Maine’s Second Congressional District, where Trump in 2016 captured its lone electoral vote — and his only win in New England — and which appears to be a fertile battleground for both candidates this year.

Advertisement



The nonpartisan Cook Political Report considers the district a “toss-up,” even as the rest of Maine, and three of its four available electoral votes, appear safely in Biden’s camp. Its current representative, Democrat Jared Golden, first won there in 2018 to flip what was New England’s last GOP-held congressional district.

And still none of the voters contacted said their view of the race shifted after an event marked more by insult-trading and Trump’s heckling than any real debating.

“Oh gosh, yeah. As hard as it was to watch, I did make it through the whole thing,” said Sharon Weston, a 59-year-old Democrat from Bethel who plans to vote for Biden. She said she was appalled by Trump’s resistance to condemn white supremacist groups, or the far-right extremist group, Proud Boys, whom the president told to “stand back and stand by.”

“The only shift [for me] was to more concern than ever about Trump," said Weston. "I continue to watch Trump show who he really is and just hope his supporters, some of them, say, ‘My God, I can’t vote for this guy.’ ”

Advertisement



Trump supporters, however, were similarly unmoved by the night’s performance.

Ted Brown, 57, of Newport said watching the debate reinforced his view that Trump is a tough leader willing to stand up to anybody for the American people.

“The moderator couldn’t control him. That’s what Donald Trump does. He’s a leader when he gets into a situation and he takes over and he does what he does,” said the self-employed HVAC technician. “That’s why we are in the position we’re in, that’s why we’re having a great recovery after this pandemic crap.

“You know,” he said, "as soon as the country opens up, this economy is gonna boom like no one’s ever seen in their life.”

Joanie Hill, a 45-year-old Republican from Searsport, said that she and her husband, Todd, intend to vote for Trump, but that she hopes the president “would behave" in future debates, if only to allow Biden to trip up.

“They both looked bad. But Trump needs to shush so he doesn’t look as bad,” Hill said. “At this point Biden, or whoever is in Biden’s ear, isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.”

The debate was continuously marked by interruptions, most of which came from Trump, whose repeated attempts to talk over or through Biden prompted moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News at one point to call for less interference.

Advertisement



“And him, too?” the president said in reference to Biden.

“Well, frankly," Wallace told Trump, “you’ve been doing more interrupting.”

Like other Trump supporters, Tammy Seguin, of Sabattus, disagreed.

“There were too many interruptions on both parts,” the 61-year-old Republican said Wednesday. “[Trump] got his point across about law and order. And that’s a very important issue.”

The debate, she said, “didn’t change my mind at all.”

Trump’s frequent interruptions didn’t bother Sandi Foley of Eddington. “He’s probably tired, man. He’s running rampant. He’s campaigning, he’s taking care of business all at the same time,” the 59-year-old school bus driver said.

Snap polls after the debate found more viewers thought Biden won. A CNN debate reaction poll of national viewers found 60 percent thought Biden did the best job in the debate, while 28 percent thought Trump did. A CBS survey found 48 percent of debate watchers thought Biden won, while 41 percent picked the president.

But regardless of the perceived winner, it didn’t mean most people enjoyed the experience. In the CBS poll, nearly seven in 10 surveyed said the debate left them feeling “annoyed.”

For Mainers interviewed Wednesday, seemingly dueling realities sprouted from the tangle of shouts and cross talk on the debate stage: Reaffirmations of voters' beliefs about both men, particularly Trump.

Scott Marsh, a 67-year-old welder from Hiram who is voting for Biden, said the president proved his image as a “professional bullier.” To Herb Hingley, a 79-year-old Trump supporter, he was again “feisty," admitting with a laugh that it’s what he likes about Trump.

Advertisement



“It was kind of crazy," the Pleasant Ridge Plantation resident said of the debate. “But Trump made his point, I guess.”

Lee Glynn, a Republican, said he typically leans conservative, but knew before the debate that he was picking Biden over Trump. Still, the Skowhegan resident said he was eager to assess the former vice president’s mental acuity, whether he was “sharp and able to tap dance,” Glynn said, against the bull-dozing president.

His conclusion: Biden wasn’t.

“I saw him easily distracted. I saw him lose his place on what the question was. I saw him obviously get continuously interrupted, but paying too much attention to those interruptions," Glynn lamented.

And yet, he said, the Democrat still had his vote, albeit unenthusiastically.

“I’m going to hold my nose, and do it," he said. “I think that we have a position in our mind about what we think of that person. And then we see his performance, and we naturally key on those things that reinforce our predisposed opinion."

As for the debate itself? “That," Glynn said, “was an embarrassment.”

Some of those Mainers contacted Wednesday, who had responded to an earlier Suffolk University-Globe poll, simply chose not to subject themselves to the televised torture. That includes AnnMarie Simone, a 56-year-old Democrat from Farmington, who said she is committed to voting for Biden and predicted possible civil war if Trump is reelected.

“I can’t stand him,” she said of Trump. “I’m confused that people would actually vote for him. Do they not see what I see? I just don’t get it.”

Advertisement



Charles Skovgaard, 72, of Surry said he didn’t watch it either, opting instead to watch the New York Yankees-Cleveland Indians playoff game. He said he’s technically undecided in the race — still weighing which third-party candidate he’ll choose instead of Biden or Trump — though that will take some research.

Whether that will include the two remaining presidential debates depends, he said. “If my Yankees are still playing.”




Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout. Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.