BANGOR, Maine (AP) — Donald Trump struck back at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Wednesday in a mostly rural area in Maine, where his message of economic populism could earn him a vote in the Electoral College.
Addressing a crowd of several thousand in an indoor arena, Trump blasted existing free trade deals and reiterated his pledge to label China a currency manipulator. And he took aim at the Chamber, a frequent Republican ally, for criticizing a speech he made Tuesday outlining his protectionist trade policies.
"They don't want us to have more jobs? They don't want us to make some money?" Trump asked the crowd. "Why would the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say we should leave everything the way it is when I can make a better deal?"
"I don't understand it," he added. "If you think about it it's pretty sinister."
Trump's remarks mark a stark departure from typical Republican orthodoxy — and his choice of location is a rare one for presidential candidates.
The state carries just four Electoral College votes and has not voted for a Republican president since 1988. But Maine, like only one other state in the country, awards one Electoral College vote for each of its two congressional districts. It also awards two for the winner of the state's popular vote.
Polling data is limited, but a recent Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll showed that, while Clinton is leading state-wide, the race is virtually tied in the 2nd congressional district, where Bangor is located.
If Trump is able to win the district, he would emerge with one electoral vote. It's a scenario that's never taken place, but there is a growing gulf between Maine's populated south and rural north that could play to Trump's favor. The 2nd District is mostly rural and does not include the urban centers of Portland and Augusta. Northern Maine has seen losses in manufacturing jobs, particularly in logging, paper-making and forest products.
In his speech, Trump focused largely on trade and jobs, but he also slammed some of his former Republican rivals for backing away from their pledge to support him. He also bragged about raising campaign money even though disclosure forms said he raised only about a tenth of what Democrat Hillary Clinton raised in the most recent reporting period. Trump has since launched an online fundraising effort that raised $3 million in one day — as much as he raised in the entire month of May.
"First of all, I don't even know why I need so much money," Trump said Wednesday. "You know, I go around, I make speeches, I talk to reporters. I don't even need commercials, if you want to know the truth."
The crowd in Bangor cheered wildly on several occasions as Trump declared he would bring back jobs and protect American workers.
"The 2nd district is really ripe for that kind of message," said Lance Dutson, a Republican consultant in Maine who previously worked for GOP Sen. Susan Collins.
At least one outside Republican group may see potential for a Trump win here as well. The political arm of the National Rifle Association is spending $50,000 in the Bangor market on a commercial about what it calls Hillary Clinton's lies about the Benghazi attack during her watch as secretary of state. It's part of the NRA's $2.4 million investment to air the ad across the country over the next three weeks, advertising tracker Kantar Media's CMAG shows.
Trump supporters in this area, who are not used to visits from presidential candidates, feel lucky the businessman chose to head their way.
"This is a once in a lifetime thing," said John York, who lives 40 miles north of Bangor. He said it "means a lot" that Trump would travel so far north. Donning an American flag-patterned shirt, York said he doesn't want Trump to soften any of his positions on immigration, national security or the economy.
Dutson, the Republican consultant, noted Trump's style doesn't match the more mild-tempered Republicans the state has tended to elect, such as Collins.
But Trump does have the support of one brash Mainer who holds elected office: Gov. Paul LePage, who won re-election in 2014. Trump has been struggling to win endorsements from skeptical party leaders, making his big-name gubernatorial endorses all the more valuable.
On hand Wednesday to introduce Trump, LePage implored Maine voters to show enthusiastic support for the businessman.
"Make sure he knows before he leaves here that we have picked a winner," LePage declared.
And if Trump doesn't become the president?
"If things don't work out for me, I may just come on up here and say the hell with it," Trump joked to the crowd. "You have a big chunk of real estate up here, nobody knows."