A sign protesting the proposed Central Maine Power corridor is seen on a mailbox on the side of a road in The Forks on Aug. 20. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. There are four days until the November election. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “When trying to problem solve with Jenna or think critically about the work we do, I have frequently been met with aggressive, unprofessional and emotionally abusive communication,” said a former staff member of Jenna Mehnert, the executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness of Maine. The former employee was one of 15 who spoke to the Bangor Daily News about working conditions under Mehnert at the organization.

What we’re watching today

A second referendum campaign against Central Maine Power’s powerline project is kicking off in a climate as politically fraught as it was a year ago. No CMP Corridor, one of a group opposed to the corridor, is expected to have petitions in hand today and will be able to circulate them on Election Day. This effort, unlike one pulled from the 2020 ballot because it was deemed unconstitutional, is focused on pressuring the new Legislature to block the project.

It could ultimately run into similar questions of citizens’ and lawmakers’ ability to overturn executive branch decisions. But efforts to block the project may get more traction in Augusta next year than they have to date. Candidates in the upcoming election — particularly for Maine Senate seats — are overwhelmingly opposed to the project in its current form.

It comes as the role of outside groups in the project continues to play out in the legal realm. The Maine Ethics Commission will mull today whether to retract its demand that Stop the Corridor, a dark-money group that has funded anti-corridor efforts, reveal sources of funding to commission staff as a lawsuit the group brought to prevent that from happening continues.

At the same time, CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, has gone on the offensive against one of its biggest competitors funding opposition to the group. It filed a federal complaint this month accusing NextEra Energy Resources, a large Florida-based utility who owns power plants in Maine and New Hampshire, of hampering the project. The complaint already has several intervenors, including CMP’s project partner, Hydro-Quebec and a regional group representing New England governors’ interest in electricity prices.

Also in the balance is a decision from a Superior Court judge on whether the state should have sent a controversial land lease to the Legislature. That decision is expected sometime this month after arguments were heard last week. Major federal permits have yet to be awarded, but environmental groups are preemptively challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not conducting a more rigorous review of the project. Many balls are in the air here.

Road trips and late endorsements in Maine’s U.S. Senate race

Maine’s U.S. Senate candidates will be all over the state this weekend as they make a final push for votes ahead of Tuesday’s election. Sen. Susan Collins and House Speaker Sara Gideon are each expected to make campaign stops in five counties each today as they look to make their final pitches on the weekend before the election. 

The Democratic challenger will begin in Augusta and trek through central and western Maine before holding a drive-in rally and concert in Cumberland, while the Republican incumbent will work her way up U.S. Route 1 from Woolwich to Bucksport.

Collins rolled out endorsements from law enforcement officials on Thursday. Nine elected sheriffs from York to Piscataquis counties endorsed the incumbent Republican’s reelection bid, citing her work to secure federal funding to support a range of law enforcement services in Maine. Two of them — Eric Samson of Androscoggin County and William King of York County — are Democrats, though sheriffs typically do not play a major role in party politics here.

Gideon was backed by the wife of Maine’s junior senator. House Speaker Sara Gideon, the Democrat challenging U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, picked up an endorsement from Mary Herman, a longtime consultant who now works for the Maine Department of Education who is the wife of Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. In a video released by the Gideon campaign, Herman — not mentioning her marriage — praises Gideon’s work on health care. 

King caucuses with Democrats, but he endorsed Collins during her 2014 reelection bid before pledging to stay out of the race this time. He has endorsed Rep. Jared Golden in the 2nd Congressional District and former Vice President Joe Biden for the presidential race.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Community transmission now occurring statewide, Maine’s top health official warns,” Charles Eichacker, Bangor Daily News: “Maine’s spike in COVID-19 cases is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the state’s top public health official said Thursday as the state recorded the second day in a row of record-setting numbers of new cases that have followed weeks of increasing virus cases.”

— “Tough GOP path to break Democrats’ hold on Maine Legislature runs through these areas,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “Maine’s political parties have spent big on legislative races in the final month of the 2020 election as majority Democrats maintain a spending advantage but Republicans have an outside shot at flipping the competitive Senate.”

Senate Republicans are hoping to gain seats in a 2016-like election in which federal races play differently by region. Democrats have strong majorities in each chamber after a wave election two years ago and have outspent Republican outside groups three to one. But Republicans have pickup opportunities in conservative-leaning areas as Democrats play offense on the coast. Polls in the U.S. Senate and presidential race look different between the two congressional districts, a phenomenon helping Republicans hang onto the Senate in 2016. 

— “Donald Trump Jr. says Maine’s 2nd District could decide election at Orrington rally,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Donald Trump Jr. said Maine’s swing 2nd Congressional District could ‘decide the presidency’ during a Thursday campaign stop at an Orrington church moved from a local business after the state cited concerns about crowd size during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The rally was moved from a Hermon business after the state warned it could violate coronavirus-related crowd size restrictions. Greenway Equipment Sales, which had originally planned to host the rally, said in a Facebook post Thursday that it had received a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services that references the current gathering limits — 100 people for outdoor events — and said the state would take “all reasonable and practicable actions to protect the health and safety of Maine people” in the event of a violation.

Absentee ballot requests top 500,000

Maine has seen more than 500,000 absentee ballot requests as in-person absentee voting wraps up today. Nearly 444,000 voters have successfully returned their ballots already, according to data released by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office on Thursday. Another nearly 55,000 ballots are still outstanding.

Thursday was the last day to request an absentee ballot online, while voters can still request and fill out an absentee ballot at their town hall today. Absentee ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day, the same time polls close. State and local officials are advising voters who have not yet returned their absentee ballots to drop them off and their town offices or town drop boxes due to concerns about mail delays.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...