A Donald Trump-supporting incumbent mayor will remain in office for a third term as mayor of this small Maine city of 36,000, which has been deluged in recent years with thousands of Muslim Somali immigrants.
Robert Macdonald, a 68-year-old Republican, was outspent 15-1 by Ben Chin, a 30-year-old community organizer on the payroll of a large local leftist political group, the Maine People’s Alliance. Chin won the preliminary election last month, but did not receive the majority he needed to avoid a runoff against the two-term GOP incumbent.
It was apparently the first election in the U.S. since the Islamist massacre in San Bernardino last week.
Maine has long been considered a blue state, but seems to be turning somewhat purple – the congressional delegation is now half-Republican, the state Senate is in GOP hands, and Gov. Paul LePage was reelected last year with the largest popular vote in Vacationland history.
Asked by Breitbart whom he supports for president, Macdonald said, “Trump, of course.”
Macdonald got 4,398 votes to Chin’s 3,826 – a 53-47 percent margin – despite having no website, no Facebook page, no campaign headquarters or telephone number and no organized election day get-out-the-vote effort. In the preliminary, Macdonald only got 37 percent of the vote.
The incumbent credited his victory in part to the Trump effect. “I thought about Trump a lot,” Macdonald said Wednesday. “He’d say something, and he’d go up in the polls, and I’d figure, every time his numbers improve, mine probably do too.”
Macdonald, described by the Bangor Daily News as a “pugnacious conservative,” floated state legislation this year to put the names of all welfare recipients on line, arguing that if state pensioners had their monthly stipends on line, so should those on the dole. The legislation went nowhere in the state capital of Augusta.
Macdonald was embroiled in controversy three years ago when he was included in a BBC documentary saying that the city’s Muslim immigrants, mostly refugees, should “leave your culture at the door.”
He spoke directly to the Somali community in the documentary, saying, “If you believe in [Somali culture] so much, why aren’t you over there fighting for it? If you believe in it so much, why aren’t you shedding your blood to get it? Why are you over here shirking your duties?”
Chin, a graduate of Bates College in the city, tried to mobilize college students and naturalized Somalis living downtown. His platform included building more public housing and solar panels and more citizenship programs.
A local landlord posted signs urging voters to reject “Ho Chi Chin,” which Chin claimed was a racist attack. The landlord said he was referring to Chin’s socialist views.
Chin was endorsed by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who also supported the losing Democratic candidate in Maine’s Second congressional District last year.
Given Chin’s huge monetary advantage, some local Republicans despaired of holding onto the Lewiston mayor’s office. At least one member of LePage’s staff donated to the Macdonald campaign more than a month ago, but the incumbent has yet to cash the check.
But today Macdonald seemed jubilant about his come-from-behind upset victory over his well-heeled, progressive opponent.
“I wiped that smug smile off his face last night,” Macdonald said. “I told people if he won, their taxes were going way up. He tried to run a big-city campaign, and that pissed people off, raising all that money. And he had the college kids from Bates knocking on the same doors day after day – voters thought they were being harassed.”
Macdonald, a Vietnam veteran and retired police detective, said he figured he could “eke out” a win. His confidence increased as Tuesday wore on.
“In the morning I saw people my age voting,” he said, “and then later in the day, it was working people. I figured I was okay.”
Lewiston is still predominantly Franco-American. It’s the birthplace of Gov. LePage, who grew up speaking only French until he was 11. But according to recent census data, at least 10 percent of the city’s population is now Somali.
Some local media have likened the Somali influx to the French immigration from Quebec to work in the mills – a comparison that irritates some longtime Lewiston residents.
The Bangor newspaper today quoted a Macdonald voter as saying, “There was no welfare” when his ancestors arrived in Androscoggin County.
“We’re tired of the freeloaders,” the voter said, reflecting a common sentiment.
Macdonald held no victory celebration after he was declared the winner around 9:15 p.m. The Bangor Daily News reported that his wife “reluctantly” allowed a reporter and photographer into his house to get a statement from the mayor, who the paper said was already in his pajamas.
“Not pajamas,” the mayor corrected yesterday. “My sweatpants.”