PORTLAND, Maine — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump painted a frightening image of Maine’s Somali refugees in a dark speech here on Thursday, saying the U.S. is admitting people from “among the most dangerous places in the world” and that “has to stop.”
The New York billionaire’s remarks underlined his nativist platform that includes calls for halting Muslim immigration from certain countries, a border wall with Mexico and mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. They quickly drew condemnation from two African-born officials in Portland.
Maine is the nation’s whitest state, but it’s home to concentrated communities of African and Iraqi immigrants — many of them refugees — primarily in Portland and the Lewiston area.
Trump said “they’re all talking about it” in Maine before reading a list of crimes allegedly committed by refugees and using the issue to hammer Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, overstating her call for resettling 65,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S.
“Hillary Clinton wants to have them come in by the hundreds of thousands,” Trump said to boos from his raucous capacity crowd of 1,600 at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium. “This has nothing to do with politics, folks. This is a whole different level. This has to do with pure, raw stupidity.”
But Abdullahi Ahmed, a Somali assistant principal at Deering High School who first came to America as a refugee, said “it’s very un-American to turn people against one another to win a seat” and called “a very scary narrative” that many fear “will lead to more trouble for us as a community.”
“Rhetoric like that is dangerous. It divides our communities, both here and nationwide,” said Pious Ali, a Portland Board of Education member and Muslim from Ghana. “This country is built based on bringing people from diverse backgrounds, and African immigrants are not any different than people from anywhere else.”
But the message — a localized version of the acceptance speech Trump gave at the Republican National Convention in July — landed with many of his supporters, including Bert Corrigan of Smithfield, who said he has friends in Lewiston and that crime has skyrocketed there.
Actually, the city’s crime rate fell by more than 23 percent between 2005 and 2014, according to state data.
Corrigan said he’s “for people coming to America,” but not when it affects municipal budgets, crime and schools and when immigrants “can’t assimilate” into American culture.
“I don’t know if we learned from that, because the Democratic administration is pushing for more of the same,” he said.
Trump’s third visit this year to Maine comes after a June poll from the Portland Press Herald found him trailing Clinton statewide but tied with her in the more conservative, rural 2nd Congressional District.
Maine has voted for the Democrat in every presidential election since 1992, but it’s one of two states that split presidential electors by district. That puts at least one of Maine’s four electors in play, and Trump has prioritized the state as one of a handful of states he’s trying to flip in 2016.
“We want … to see if we can win the whole state,” Trump said to cheers. “Somebody was saying, ‘Not four, but you’ll get one.’ Then somebody else said, ‘You know what, I think we can get all four.’”
Trump held rallies in Portland and Bangor in March and June, respectively. He was met Thursday by protests outside the auditorium in downtown Portland, and there were five interruptions during his speech.
Members of the Maine People’s Alliance were removed after rising silently to hold up pocket-sized copies of the constitution. One Trump supporter tried to grab one from a protester as she left.
The candidate’s other Maine stops came at better times in his trajectory, first as he was building momentum toward the party’s nomination and the second while approaching the national convention.
The Republican led national polls after his party’s convention last month, but Clinton had re-established a six-point lead by Thursday, according to a RealClearPolitics average.
Trump’s recent dip comes after he seemingly incurred self-inflicted damage in a feud with Khizr Khan, the father of an Army captain who died in Iraq in 2004.
During a Democratic National Convention speech last week, Khan criticized Trump, saying he “consistently smears the character of Muslims.” Trump fired back by saying Khan attacked him “viciously” and that Khan’s wife perhaps wasn’t “allowed” to speak.
Veterans and the families of U.S. war casualties have condemned Trump for verbally attacking the Khans.
Outside Portland City Hall was Ellen Murphy, a Portlander whose father was a World War II veteran. She held a large cardboard sign reading “RESPECT FOR GOLD STAR FAMILIES.”
She said Trump’s comments on the Khans were inappropriate for anyone — let alone a presidential candidate.
“I don’t think that any military family should be treated the way the Khans were treated by Trump,” she said, “especially since he got five deferments during Vietnam.”
BDN writers Jake Bleiberg and Dan MacLeod contributed to this report.