Greetings from Bangor, Maine, where the New England fall is at its magnificent height and where the temperatures are falling but the political heat index is red hot.
I’m spending the week volunteering to help elect Jared Golden, a Democrat endorsed by J Street fighting to win Maine’s Second Congressional District from Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin.
Like all of America, this city of around 150,000 is in shock from the horrific tragedy in Pittsburgh last Shabbat. I just returned from a moving memorial service at Congregation Beth El, one of three synagogues in the city, attended by many hundreds of local citizens. The standing-room only crowd overflowed from the sanctuary into the lobby, the corridors and from there down the steps and into the street.
Led by Rabbis Darah Lerner and Bill Siemers, the speakers also included Mayor Ben Sprague, Omar Conteh of the Islamic Center of Maine and Maulian Dana of the Penobscot Nation. The name of Donald Trump was not mentioned. But there was a clear implication in the words of all the speakers that his racism, incitement and intolerance were among the factors stoking the fires of hatred that helped precipitate the massacre.
Polls have shown that the race between Golden, a Marine Corps veteran and state legislator, and the Republican incumbent is very close. I spoke to Golden in his Bangor campaign office and found him to be modest and soft-spoken, definitely a man of the people but extremely well-informed and very determined.
The Bangor office, located in a modest storefront next to a tattoo parlor, is second home to an eclectic group of volunteers and campaign workers — some barely out of college and others who are proud grandparents — all united by a fierce desire to make a difference. This is a huge congressional district. It encompasses 27,000 square miles — 80 percent of the state’s total land area, making it the largest district east of the Mississippi. It was held by the Democrats from 1994 to 2014, when the current incumbent flipped it to the Republicans. In 2016, Trump carried the district by 10 points.
As one would expect from such a massive district, the population is very diverse. Just in the area outside the city limits where I’ve been canvassing, one finds newly-built mega-mansions alongside extremely modest wooden homes and a trailer park.
Judging from the responses I’ve received, Golden is drawing wide support that cuts across class barriers. His message of expanding healthcare coverage and defending Medicare and Social Security has certainly hit a nerve in a region badly affected by the opioid epidemic.
The Golden campaign will send out several hundred volunteers to get out the vote in every corner of the district between now and Election Day. Enthusiasm is very high. People can smell victory.
Since arriving here, I’ve spoken to nearly 300 people either by phone or in person. I have been greeted with kindness and courtesy, even by people supporting the Republican candidate, although I did have to flee two very irate Rottweilers guarding one particular home.
The turnout for the memorial service at the synagogue and the basic decency of people here are a reason for hope in these grim days for our nation and our community.
I believe in this mission. Right now, there is nowhere I would rather be and nothing else I would rather be doing.