OAKLAND — Republican Bruce Poliquin is trying to capture Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat after nearly two decades of Democratic control and amid national conditions favoring his party in November.
A day after Poliquin and Democrat Emily Cain won their party primaries, they began pouncing on their differences and laying the groundwork for a general election campaign to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who is running for governor.
On his way to the nomination, Poliquin defeated Kevin Raye, a longtime aide to former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, the last Republican to hold the 2nd district seat. Snowe held the seat from 1979 to 1994.
Raye and others wonder if Poliquin, an uncompromising conservative, can win in November against Cain, a liberal known for legislative deal-making with Republicans.
On Wednesday afternoon, about 12 hours after beating Raye, Poliquin mingled with supporters at a pizza shop in Oakland, where he lives.
Poliquin, a 60-year-old former state treasurer who lost primary bids for governor in 2010 and for U.S. Senate in 2012, rejected notions that he may be hard to elect in the 2nd District, telling reporters that voters who want a strong economy will vote for him because of his fiscal conservatism and record of job creation. Poliquin has cited top issues of reducing national debt and reforming Social Security and Medicare.
“We want to appeal to everybody,” he said, “everybody who wants their kids to have a better life and be able to live in the state of Maine and in the 2nd District, that’s someone who should vote for me.”
Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said Cain is the favorite as the campaign starts and Poliquin will have “a very hard time taking this seat in November” because he is more conservative than Raye and the moderates who have recently held the seat — Michaud, Snowe and John Baldacci. That could mean a smaller support base for Poliquin in the general election, Brewer said.
Also, Blaine Richardson of Belfast, a conservative independent, is on the ballot and is expected to take votes away from Poliquin.
Cain, 34, an Orono state senator, welcomed Poliquin’s win in a Wednesday interview following her primary win over Troy Jackson. She thinks she has a better chance to win against Poliquin than she would have had against Raye, because it gives voters more of a contrast. She supports same-sex marriage, abortion rights and raising the minimum wage and Poliquin doesn’t, for example.
“He has outlined in his campaign for the last several months that all he wants to do is cut, cut, cut,” Cain said of Poliquin. “I want us to grow Maine’s economy and those are very key differences.”
Cain, who was first elected to the Maine Legislature in 2004, was House minority leader after Republicans won control of the legislature and governor’s office in 2010.
On Wednesday, Poliquin linked Cain to past years’ reports in Forbes magazine ranking Maine as having the nation’s worst state business climate, years of perceived overspending and other negative consequences he said were a result of years of Democratic leadership.
“If you want more of that in Washington, then I’m not your candidate. There’s someone else you can choose,” Poliquin said. “But if you want someone to bring business skills, skills to fix the financial mess that we’re in down there, then I’m the much better choice.”
As state treasurer from 2011 to early 2013, he led the way in advocating for reforms still cheered by Republicans and hated by Democrats, including pension reductions for state workers passed in a 2011 state budget. He also faced heat in 2012 over enrollment in a state tax-break program.
Originally from Waterville, Poliquin moved to a family home in Oakland in August 2013 from coastal Georgetown to run for Congress, and Raye made that a key issue in his campaign.
On Tuesday, when Raye conceded defeat, he didn’t express outright support for Poliquin, like Jackson did for Cain in his concession speech. Raye circulated his election night party in Bangor to talk to supporters, saying Poliquin would have trouble winning against Cain.
Brewer agreed with Raye, saying Poliquin has “a very specialized, foundational group of supporters and it’s hard to see how much bigger he can make that.”
Still, Republicans are favored nationally in this year’s mid-term elections, with Democratic President Barack Obama midway through his final term. The Washington Post’s Election Lab has given Republicans a 63 percent chance to win the 2nd District seat in November.
Republican voters outnumbered Democrats in the district by nearly 7,000 on Tuesday with 97 percent of precincts reporting tallies Wednesday afternoon. In a statement, Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett said those numbers show that the party is “clearly energized about this year’s elections.”
Cain also said her party will be energized in Maine this year — buoyed especially at the polls by Michaud’s run against Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
“We’re both talking about working across the aisle, both talking about focusing on the economy,” she said of her and Michaud. “That’s what Democrats are going to be doing this year and I think it’s going to be something that resonates across the whole state.”
Michael Shepherd — 370-7652