Editor’s Note: This is the first of two stories profiling Democratic and Republican candidates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in advance of the June 10 primary. A story on Republicans Kevin Raye and Bruce Poliquin will be in Tuesday’s Kennebec Journal.
LEWISTON — With less than three weeks before Democrats choose a nominee to Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, Troy Jackson and Emily Cain are far from home, treading what’s now neutral turf.
On Thursday, the Democratic state senators were in and around Lewiston, with Cain touring Baxter Brewing Co. and Jackson making phone calls from his office and heading to Portland for an afternoon television interview.
That night, the candidates debated in South Paris, about 340 miles from Jackson’s home in Allagash and about 140 miles from Cain’s in Orono.
All the while, the candidates running to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, along with Republicans Kevin Raye and Bruce Poliquin, touted distinctions they’ve raised campaign-long.
For Cain, that’s a record of legislative compromise, while Jackson spends more time talking about core issues on which he won’t compromise.
Jackson, 45, is a feisty, plain-speaking labor Democrat with near-universal support from unions that have endorsed him in the race, which he says is about “the soul of the working-class people.”
He said he’s running for Congress because “there’s no one really there making the case for regular, everyday working-class people or poor people.”
Cain, 34, on leave from her half-time job as a coordinator in the University of Maine Honors College, has been known in the Maine Legislature for compromise.
She is backed by environmental groups and others supporting abortion rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. She says a sense of optimism about the state and district has led her to run.
“I love this work and I fundamentally believe there is an important role for government to play in education, in the economy,” Cain said. “It doesn’t have to be big or small; it should be effective. It should be something that works well. In Washington, that’s not the case.”
SPARRING ON VOTES
The two have different styles and records in a campaign in which Cain has raised far more money than Jackson.
For example, Cain has worked with Republican Gov. Paul LePage to beef up state laws against domestic violence, while Jackson may be known best as LePage’s foil in Augusta — the target of the governor’s now-infamous “Vaseline” remark last year.
Cain highlights differences with Jackson on social issues — he has an anti-abortion record and voted against same-sex marriage in 2009, a vote he has said he regrets — and on their environmental record.
Jackson is quick to criticize some of Cain’s votes, most notably her support of a state budget passed in 2011 under a Republican legislative majority that contained a tax-cut package Democrats have derided as being “for the rich” and pension reductions for state employees.
In Congress, he says he’ll take a hard line on helping more Americans get access to health care — which he’ll lose around year’s end if he doesn’t win election to Congress — and work to preserve Social Security, core issues he says he’ll never compromise on.
“She just wants to come out with a deal,” Jackson said of Cain. “I’m more concerned about what the deal is. Because I’ve seen it too often, that the deal is going to mean working-class, poor people, those that don’t have lobbyists, they’re going to lose.”
But Cain defends that vote by saying she voted for that budget to protect other provisions negotiated by Democrats, saying she won’t compromise on party values, including keeping Social Security intact.
Still, she said her record on compromise in the Legislature “is clear,” and when Jackson hits her for that, “he’s criticizing me for staying at the table when it was too hard for other people.”
“I know when Democrats walk away, Maine families get hurt,” Cain said.
Both candidates said until recently, they never expected to run for Congress.
Cain wasn’t involved in politics before or during college, first running for the Legislature successfully in 2004 largely because of interest in education. If someone had told her around then that she would be trying to get to Washington now, she said she would have said, “No way.”
Jackson’s start in politics was perhaps more personal.
He made headlines in 1998 for helping lead a blockade along the Canadian border to stop Canadian loggers from coming to work in the Maine woods. In 2003 as a state representative, he helped loggers and truckers working for Irving Woodlands, northern Maine’s biggest landowner, organize a work stoppage for higher pay rates.
The Irving family, estimated to be worth billions and with control of paper, oil, media and other businesses, is based in New Brunswick, but operates in Maine and other places.
Jackson sees himself fighting another wealthy businessman now. That’s S. Donald Sussman, a top Democratic donor who is majority owner of MaineToday Media, publisher of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.
Sussman has donated to Cain and an environmental group that supports her, which announced a $150,000 mail campaign against Jackson this month. Cain has kept mostly quiet on the expenditure, saying she’s proud of her environmental record.
“Just like when I started, there’s always someone with money telling me that I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that,” Jackson said. “Now after 12 years in the Legislature, I’ve seen that same mentality. I’ve seen it very much so over the past few weeks in this campaign, and it infuriates me.”