President Joe Biden tells a story during an interview-style speaking engagement at Merrill Auditorium in Portland on Jan. 31, 2018. At left is former Maine Sen. George Mitchell. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.

The last time Joe Biden was in Maine, it was early 2018 for a book tour stop in Portland.

At one point, he waved off one admirer’s urging from the crowd that he should run against then-President Donald Trump. By the time he ran, Maine was kind to him.

A wave of departures before the state’s Democratic primary in 2020 led Biden to an unexpected victory over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and other more liberal candidates. When he won the presidency, he took the state by 9 percentage points over Trump, though the Republican won one of Maine’s four electors from the 2nd District. 

Biden is coming to Maine on Friday for the first time during his presidency. We still don’t know where he will be going or what he will be doing, but we do know that the state embodies some of his biggest struggles en route to a potential rematch with Trump.

The context: One of those challenges is foundering approval. Biden’s approval has been sitting in the low 40s nationally for months. It was measured at 47 percent in Maine in a University of New Hampshire poll in April, with 53 percent seeing him unfavorably. That was in stark contrast to politicians here including Gov. Janet Mills, who had 60 percent approval in the same poll.

The only positive for Biden on this front is that Trump’s favorability rating has been lower than the president’s approval. For the moment, Trump looks likely to emerge from a crowded Republican primary despite federal charges for alleged mishandling of confidential documents and potentially more coming related to the Capitol riots of Jan. 6, 2021.

Polarization has been one of the major stories of the Biden and Trump eras, and Maine is no different on that front. We have seen a longstanding north-south divide widen over the past decade. This has led to less commonality between the two halves of the state and voters in both parties.

In that April poll of Maine, 84 percent of Democrats approved of Biden’s job in office so far, while just 2 percent of Republicans did. The more worrying thing for Biden is that he was underwater with independents, a major bloc here that only gave him 40 percent approval to 56 percent disapproval.

What’s next: Maine is not likely to decide the 2024 presidential election. But it still sticks out on the electoral map as a state that voted for Biden but mostly disapproves of him now, and areas here look a lot like those in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that may decide whether Biden gets a second term.

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...