As elections approach, comparisons between Maine and New Hampshire pandemic resurface in race for governor


Governor Janet Mills again faces comparisons to her counterpart in neighboring New Hampshire as the coronavirus pandemic enters a new phase ahead of a high-stakes election season.

The chairman of the Republican National Committee highlighted the strategy during a fundraising appearance Wednesday, saying conservative governors have preserved their economies without harming vulnerable populations. Meanwhile, Maine Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake R-Turner criticized Mill’s decision to continue paying an additional $ 300 per person in weekly unemployment benefits, saying Maine missed an opportunity to ‘improve its unemployment rate compared to New Hampshire.

But the economic recoveries in both states have continued to follow similar trajectories. Governors implemented and lifted restrictions within weeks of each other in most cases. Their manners may have differed, but their strategies continued to earn them clear positive approval ratings in their states.

The way they handled the pandemic will be the highlight of the two governors’ campaigns. Mills will likely face former Gov. Paul LePage next fall, while Sununu hasn’t quite ruled out challenging U.S. Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan for her seat, a potentially fierce clash. With the increase in new coronavirus cases in the two states prompting different responses from the two governors, their next steps will be critical to how voters view them in 2022.

One major recent difference is how the two handled a recommendation from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that everyone, regardless of their immunization status, should wear masks indoors in areas where community transmission is high. Mills adopted the recommendations – and may reconsider them – but Sununu refused, saying it’s up to people to protect themselves by getting vaccinated.

The recommendations have caused confusion because the metric changes quickly in a small state like Maine. Jeremy Fischer, a former three-term Democratic state representative and lawyer at Drummond Woodsum, said it could frustrate Mills supporters.

“Asking all of the people who did the right thing and changed their behavior to protect a bunch of people who didn’t do the same thing from masquerading again is a hard sell,” said Fischer, who supports Mills.

While Mills initially pissed off some in his party with his regional approach to the virus, criticism of his pandemic strategy has come largely from Republicans. Matt Gagnon, executive director of the Maine Policy Institute, praised Sununu for ending an additional $ 300 in unemployment benefits in June in a bid to boost the workforce. Mills offered a cash bonus to induce workers, which Gagnon considered less effective.

At 2.9%, New Hampshire’s unemployment rate in July was just under two percentage points lower than that of Maine. But the unemployment situation is influenced by many factors, and early data shows that states that ended these benefits prematurely have not seen job growth increase in the short term.

Other indicators show similar recoveries. Consumer spending in New Hampshire is up nearly 15% from January 2020 to July 18, with Maine just a percentage point higher, according to Opportunity Insight’s COVID-19 economic tracker, which tracks consumer spending on credit cards to assess how the pandemic is affecting economic activity. Time spent outside the home in each state has also increased at similar rates, with Maine experiencing slightly better recovery from pre-pandemic levels.

Sununu’s office did not return a request for comment. Mills spokesperson Lindsay Crete said the governor’s approach to the pandemic has reduced cases and, in turn, made it safer for people to return to work. She also highlighted the return to old job search requirements and the setting aside of $ 20 million in federal funds to boost child care programs designed to help Mainers return to work.

Dave Carney, a political agent who worked on John Sununu’s Senate race in 1980 and consulted on US Senator Susan Collins’ last campaign, said Maine’s adoption of the federal CDC’s hiding recommendations could deter unvaccinated people to get vaccinated as both states struggle to shut down vaccination. gaps.

Maine overtakes New Hampshire in terms of vaccination, with 74% of adults fully vaccinated here, compared to 68% for Granite State, according to the New York Times. Governors’ differences in how they approach masking will likely set the tone for their pandemic approaches going forward, something that “every governor” will continue to continue, Carney said.

While his detractors were largely Democrats, Sununu was also targeted by conservatives during a weeks-long protest against masking demands outside his home, which led him to cancel his ceremony. nomination for security reasons.

Mindi Messmer, a former representative from New Hampshire and a member of the nonprofit NH Science and Public Health Task Force, said Sununu’s approach ignored the growing risk of the delta variant in New Hampshire and pointed out the effect of the virus on nursing homes, where 70 percent of New Hampshire deaths from the Hampshire virus had occurred in April. Maine, on the other hand, has the fourth-lowest nursing home death rate in the country.

“The longer it takes to put in place strategies to stop the virus, the more we are going to deal with it,” she said.

The effect of the pandemic on the economy has been unusual, raising the cost of used cars and increasing high-income jobs as the service industry suffered significant losses, said Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation. While he said Mills’ approach to investing federal stimulus funds will go a long way to support industries beyond the short term, the trajectory of the virus will be critical to how the economies of both states recover in the near future. the future.

“We all expect some level of uncertainty,” he said.


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