A woman makes a heart with her hands before Donald Trump Jr.'s speech outside Maine Military Supply in Holden on Sept. 23. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

President Donald Trump’s positive coronavirus test is not expected to change campaigning much in Maine in the last month of the 2020 election as candidates focus on outdoor events and some Republicans defy loosely enforced state gathering rules.

The pandemic has altered this year’s campaign, which led to in-person political events largely halting over the summer. Both parties and their candidates have resumed some normal activity as Maine has managed the virus with the second-lowest rate of per-capita cases among states. Campaigns reported few plans to change course after the president’s diagnosis.

In Maine, the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign restarted in-person events in June and they have been canvassing face to face nationally for months. Before the president contracted the virus, he maintained a rally schedule throughout the summer and has rarely been seen in public wearing masks as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend them in public places where distancing from others is difficult.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has held only small events and his campaign recently announced it would start in-person canvassing in key states, citing caution about the virus. He went to Michigan on Saturday as Trump was hospitalized outside of Washington, D.C. In Maine, health officials have not tied outbreaks to political events of any kind.

Masks have been political at times in Maine during the pandemic. Republicans hit Gov. Janet Mills, who instituted Maine’s mask requirement and has barred indoor gatherings of 50 or more, after she was photographed in June at an outdoor takeout stand without a mask. She has typically worn them in public since the pandemic began.

The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., headlined the largest Maine rally of the cycle last month in Holden with Republican 2nd Congressional District candidate Dale Crafts. While the rally was outdoors, which is seen as safer than indoor events, the crowd of hundreds was largely maskless. Both Trump Jr. and Crafts were pictured in a Republican office in Bangor with more than 50 others not wearing them, however.

Crafts has held mostly small events and has worn masks at times, including when a reporter met him at an event in the Queen City in July. He is opposing Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat whose campaign said it has not held any indoor events featuring the first-term representative in the past two months. In a statement, Crafts said the “liberal media” wants to politicize the virus and that his campaign has gone to “great lengths” to encourage safety.

“However, each individual has their individual right and responsibility to do what they feel necessary to protect themselves,” he said. “Maine people are strong, resilient and can think for themselves.”

The front-running candidates in Maine’s nationally targeted U.S. Senate race have been cautious about the virus. House Speaker Sara Gideon, the Democratic nominee who has led Sen. Susan Collins in 2020 polls so far, was among a handful of Democrats in tight national races whom Politico noted beat Biden to restart in-person canvassing.

Both Collins and Gideon have often held outdoor events and have typically been seen with masks except when speaking far from others. Gideon has held socially distanced dinners with tables spaced apart with temperature checks for attendees and her campaign says it is only planning outdoor activities through Election Day barring changes to Mills’ guidelines.

This weekend, Collins told reporters in Auburn that she has not been getting tested regularly for the virus but announced Sunday that she tested negative as a precaution after three fellow Republican senators tested positive. A day earlier, she said she had not had close contact with those senators lately and did not plan to change her activities following the president’s test.

Two independents in that race have diverged: Progressive educator Lisa Savage’s spokesperson said she cautiously obtained a negative test before a debate in Presque Isle, the bombastic retired financial planner Max Linn spent a portion of that debate cutting up masks that he used to symbolize government overreach.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, has barely campaigned and is holding only virtual events in a bid for a seventh term in a reliably liberal district. Her Republican opponent, physician Jay Allen, has said healthy people should not be required to wear masks. The CDC has estimated 40 percent of virus cases are not accompanied by symptoms while transmission may be relatively common among that group.

Allen said he has attended three large indoor events. He wore a mask at one when organizers encouraged them, but he did not at the others. Citing low case numbers in Maine, he also said Trump’s diagnosis will not significantly change his campaign — with the caveat that local Republicans were hoping for the president to rally here before the election.

“It will be much more difficult to arrange [now] that he will be on quarantine for the next two weeks,” he said.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...