GUILFORD, Maine (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday laced into Maine’s Democratic governor for not moving quickly enough to reopen the state’s economy and urged his supporters to help him win the rest of the state in November if they want to see the country rebound from the coronavirus shutdown.
Referring to Maine’s electoral votes, Trump said: “Get that other half to go with Trump.” He spoke in the small town of Guilford, home to Puritan Medical Products, one of only two major companies producing a special type of swab needed to ramp up coronavirus testing.
At stops in Guilford and Bangor, Trump used his first visit to the state as president to lob jabs at Gov. Janet Mills for not reopening businesses more quickly. Trump won just one of Maine’s four electoral votes in 2016.
“When are you going to open the state up?” Trump demanded as he spoke at Puritan Medical Products. “What’s she doing?”
Earlier in Bangor, Trump compared Mills to a “dictator” and said she was preventing her state from reaping money from Maine’s busy summer tourist season.
“She’s going to destroy your state,” he said. “I’m not a fan.”
Mills responded with a lengthy rebuttal.
“Yesterday, I asked the president to check his rhetoric at the door and to lead us with courage and compassion through this difficult time,” she said. “Sadly, but unsurprisingly, he continues to prove himself incapable of doing so.”
“What Maine people heard today was more of the same incendiary rhetoric and insults he uses to try to divide us and to stoke tension and fear. What Maine people heard today was largely devoid of fact and absent of reality. What Maine people saw today was a rambling, confusing, thinly veiled political rally.”
She rebuffed Trump’s claim that Maine remained shuttered by the virus, saying 13 of Maine’s 16 counties have been reopened and that the state was the first in New England to allow indoor dining at restaurants.
Ahead of Trump’s visit, Mills had urged him to cancel the trip because of security concerns given the civil unrest over the death of George Floyd and Trump’s heavy-handed response to protests.
During Trump’s call earlier this week with governors, Mills criticized him for urging governors to “dominate” protesters and toss perpetrators of violence in prison and for his administration’s move to forcibly clear out peaceful protesters near the White House so the president could walk to a nearby church to pose for photos holding up a Bible.
Trump’s caravan rolled through Guilford during the searing heat of the afternoon, drawing cheers from supporters and “boos” from detractors. The crowd alternated between “Black Lives Matter!” and “We Love Trump!” chants as his limousine approached. There was some shouting back and forth among the factions, but the crowd was peaceful. Trump did not reference Floyd or the protests during his stops in the state.
Supporters heavily outnumbered anti-Trump demonstrators in Guilford. But there were numerous other anti-Trump demonstrations around the state, and some organizers had dissuaded protesters from coming to Guilford.
That didn’t stop Pam Chamberlain of Brewer from coming to Guilford with a sign that said “The Bible Is Not A Prop.” She said it was important for opponents of Trump and police brutality to have a presence.
“I said, I need to go down there and represent the people who are afraid to be there,” she said. “And maybe the people who are afraid to come out of their house right now.”
Paul Layman drove more than two hours from the Portland area to support the president and let protesters know what he thinks of them. He said rural Maine supports Trump because of his work on the economy. “I’m just tired of all these losers and their stupidity,” Layman said before describing protesters as “imps.”
Trump is anxious to get beyond the unrest and the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus and focus on his reelection. His visit to Puritan had the feel of a campaign rally.
The official White House event showcased the fact that his administration is providing $75.5 million through the Defense Production Act for Puritan to double production to 40 million swabs a month, and the company plans to open a second production site by July 1.
More than 350 workers in Guilford have been working long hours since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“We’re doing our best to supply the needs. It’s critical that our country is taken care of,” co-owner Timothy Templet told The Associated Press.
In Maine, the nation’s whitest state, there have been multiple days of demonstrations. Earlier in the week, more than 1,000 people gathered in Portland, stopping traffic, setting trash cans afire and pelting police with objects. More than 30 people have been arrested.
Trump began his visit in Bangor, where he met commercial fishermen and signed an order to reopen fishing waters that were closed in 2016 when the Obama administration designated the first and only national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean.
The president also used the visit to warn the European Union and China that if tariffs aren’t cut on Maine lobsters, they’ll face retaliatory tariffs equal or higher than those hurting the state’s fishermen.
AP writer David Sharp contributed to this report from Portland.
This story has been corrected to say Maine has four electoral votes, not three.