Trump and Sanders woo disenfranchised in Portland visits

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PORTLAND — They came within 24 hours of each other on March 2 and 3, calling for support from those feeling left out by those currently in power.

“We do not represent the billionaire class, we do not represent Wall Street,” U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, said to a packed house at the State Theater on Congress Street on March 2.

The next day, billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump said he wants votes, not money, from his supporters.

“This is not a plateau, it is a movement. I have more confidence in the country than I have ever had before,” he said at the conclusion of his speech in the filled ballroom at the Portland Westin Harborview Hotel.

Sanders and Trump were the only two candidates to appear in the city ahead of party caucuses held March 5 and 6. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, made a campaign stop in Orono on March 4.

Ultimately, the stops provided a bigger payout for Sanders, who won handily Sunday, taking 64 percent of the statewide popular vote for delegates to the state convention. The results would allocate 15 of 30 delegates to the national Democratic convention, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would get seven.

“When there are large voter turnouts, when working-class class people who have largely given up on the process and young people who have not been part of the process come out in large numbers, we do very well,” Sanders predicted at his rally.

Trump was defeated the day before by Cruz, who took 45.9 percent of the statewide popular vote, amounting to 12 national delegates. Trump won 32.6 percent of the vote and 9 national delegates.

State Democratic officials estimated almost 47,000 voters turned out to caucus, some waiting hours to get inside caucus sites. Statewide, GOP voters cast more than 18,600 ballots.

During his hour-long speech, Sanders predicted a high voter turnout would work in his favor, and his appearance was far less contentious than Trump’s. His was a policy-laden speech as he promised free tuition at public colleges and universities, a $15 per hour minimum wage, an end to gender inequality in pay, immigration reform and expansion of health care that would be similar to Medicare, which is provided to the aged.

Trump’s style was more acerbic and anecdotal as he responded to criticisms from U.S. Sen Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who is also seeking the GOP nomination, and Mitt Romney, who was defeated in the 2012 race by President Barack Obama.

Trump also reached out to voters feeling displaced and ignored, saying current leadership in both parties was causing inequitable trade and the loss of jobs.

“If we keep free trade like it is now, we will not have any companies left,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a future where Apple makes their iPhones in America, not China.”

Working with a slogan of “A Future to Believe In,” the Sanders rally drew no hecklers or counter protests and included a warmup band led by local singer Kenya Hall, with appearances from Guster guitarist Adam Gardner and Phish drummer Jon Fishman.

Cape Elizabeth resident Kristie Green brought her 2-year-old daughter to the rally.

“We’re here to support Bernie and and political change,” she said. “The big deal is changing the financial system and putting priorities back on working families.”

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rally drew spirited crowds from nearly the time people began lining up outside the Westin Harborview on High Street at 7:30 a.m.

Portland resident Jacob Gurny was a strong supporters. Gurny said he “loved Trump” before he was even running for president.

“Trump is a guy you could stand behind,” Gurny said. “He throws a wrench in the whole thing.”

Thomas White, of Castine, said it was his second time seeing Trump speak. He said he appreciates someone who speaks the truth.

“I think he’s tapping into something,” White said.

Portland resident Cody Bistefand came with White and Gurny to the event. Bistefand, a Republican, said he does not support Trump, but owed it to himself to see the candidate speak.

“When the circus is in town, you see it,” he said.

Sanders and Trump attracted voters ready to cross party lines.

Victoria Hockenberg is a Democrat whose first presidential vote was for Jimmy Carter in 1976. She said her grandfather was a union organizer, but her former job  was outsourced and she will vote for Trump.

“I have researched and looked; I always look,” she said. “I like that he speaks honestly, but my grandfather might be turning over in his grave.”

Sanders supporter Marjorie Fallon, of Portland, said her first vote was for Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, and she has always supported current and former U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both Republicans.

“He had some good principles,” she said of Eisenhower, as she praised Sanders, too. “It is the person and what they stand for.”

Before the Trump rally, supporters and opponents endured blustery winds for hours before getting inside. The line extended around the corner of High and Congress streets, while School Board member and City Council candidate Pious Ali led a demonstration  in Congress Square against Trump.

“The only way to make America great again is to work together,” Ali said.

Once inside, the scene turned raucous even before Maine Gov. Paul LePage introduced Trump with a six-minute speech in which he said both are fighting against the establishment and for working people.

LePage drew a very vocal and very mixed reception, and it took less than two minutes for the first people to be ejected once Trump took the stage. A “No Place for Hate in Maine” banner was unfurled and quickly shredded, and a sign hoisted by the Hockenberrys to show viewers where they were standing in the crowd was also torn.

Trump used his trademark “get him out” request three times in his 45-minute speech, but said he is trying to be gentler in his requests.

“You can be nice, but if you are nice, they will say you are too soft,” he said. “If you are too harsh, they will say you are vicious.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Staff reporter Colin Ellis contributed to this story.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, speaks March 2 at the State Theater in Portland. He was the overwhelming choice in Democratic caucuses held Sunday.

Melissa Burnham and her son, Noah, of Dixfield, warm up the audience before the March 3 State Theater rally for U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont.Marjorie Fallon of Portland awaits the rally for U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, on March 3. “It is the person and what they stand for,” she said of her support for Sanders.

Donald Trump speaks March 3 in the ballroom at the The Portland Westin Harborview Hotel. He finished second in the Maine Republican caucuses March 5.

Baxter Academy student Shania McCrillis listens during the March 3 rally for Donald Trump. She will not be old enough to vote in November, but came to the rally because she wanted to hear Trump speak.

Portland resident Cat Goding puts her opposition to Donald Trump to music on March 3 as his supporters line up on Congress Street to get into his rally at the Westin Harborview Hotel.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.