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Political Brew: Abortion rights, courting rural voters, and the race for governor

Our analysts this week are former state senator and mayor of Portland Ethan Strimling and former House Republican Leader Joe Bruno.

MAINE, USA — In the wake of a leaked draft opinion indicating that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Senate failed to advance a bill to codify the right to choose an abortion.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins said it would not have allowed hospitals to seek religious exemptions from performing abortions, so she voted no.

Independent Sen. Angus King voted yes, saying no one with religious objections would be compelled to provide the procedure.

"The bill is over the top anyway," says former House Republican leader Joe Bruno. "It would've allowed abortions right up to nine months. And I think most Americans find that reprehensible."

Ethan Strimling, former state senator and mayor of Portland, disagrees, saying, "Nobody's talking about nine-month abortions in this bill. All it did was make sure that availability was across-the-board across the country."

Though many Republican lawmakers say the states should decide this issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a national abortion ban is possible if the GOP controls Congress.

"I don't foresee a national ban on abortion," says Bruno. "I think it's going to go back to the states, and every state will determine what they want. I think that's the proper way to go."

"I don't think it's a good idea that the country is divided" half legal and half illegal, says Strimling. "What that will mean is that half the states, the women in those states will not be able to control their own bodies, make their own decisions about their economic futures, and when they want to create a family for themselves."

Both agree Maine is unlikely to ban abortion, given that surveys show majority support among Mainers for the right to choose.

Democratic State Sen. Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro is getting national attention for a book and an op-ed in the New York Times. She argues Democrats have abandoned rural communities. She says that helped Republicans gain control of dozens of state legislatures and left Democrats with only slim majorities in Washington.

Julia Brown, campaign director for Maine Senate Democrats in 2020, says Democrats here understand rural America, and their margins at the statehouse prove it.

That's a position shared by Strimling, who says, "We have the widest margin in the Senate that either party has had for 50 years, so clearly Democrats know how to speak to rural districts. The House has been Republican for just two years in the last 50, and those are rural districts across the state."

But Bruno, who serves as a selectman in Raymond, says Democrats pad their margins in the high population centers in Cumberland County.

"Once you go past the margins like Raymond is a rural area. And we don't want what Portland wants," he says.

The Spring edition of the Critical Insights Poll from Digital Research was released. Six hundred sixty-two registered voters responded, half by phone, half online. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.9%.

Financial concerns are by far the top of mind for these voters, and the poll was conducted before the draft opinion from the Supreme Court and the possibility of the end of Roe v. Wade. The GOP counting on the economy remains the issue that drives voters, not abortion.

Joe Bruno says, "The economy is always a strong point for Republicans." He adds that inflation and the prices Mainers are paying for gas and groceries all favor the GOP.

Strimling believes the right to choose will be "part of the conversation" in the campaign and that it will give Democrats a boost.

As for the race for governor, the Critical Insights poll shows a virtual dead heat, with Gov. Janet Mills at 42%, former Gov. LePage at 39%, and 13% undecided.

Bruno says the incumbent is vulnerable on the economy.

"Janet Mills got a ton of money from the federal government, it fueled inflation, and Maine isn't any better off for it. She has nothing to fall back on and say, 'Look, this is what I did.'"

Strimling responds, "What Janet Mills has is a lower unemployment rate than Paul LePage had. She's done a very good job on some of the basic, most important parts of our economic growth. I don't think anyone blames Janet Mills for inflation."
RELATED: Reproductive rights message written in chalk outside Sen. Collins' Bangor home

Our analysts also discussed Collins's response to chalk messages outside her home in Bangor urging her to support abortion rights.

Also, the revelations in recent books written by insiders in the Trump administration, whether they will hurt the former president if he decides to seek another term, and the new poll numbers say about the race for Congress in Maine's second district.

The advantages and disadvantages Democrats have as they wrap up their state convention and hit the campaign trail.

Political Brew airs Sundays on NEWS CENTER Maine's Weekend Morning Report.

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