Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, long a bastion for influential moderates, hasn’t had many representatives like the Democrat and the Republican vying for the seat in this election.

The seat has been held by legendary deal-makers Margaret Chase Smith, William Cohen and Olympia Snowe; and some observers say Democrat Emily Cain’s collaborative style, despite a liberal leaning, best matches the seat’s past holders.

But others say she’s still too liberal for the largely rural district, and they think Republican Bruce Poliquin’s more partisan approach will help him ride a national wave expected to favor the party in November.

Cain and Poliquin bring divergent styles and politics to the race as they aim to replace Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, who is running for governor in a contest against Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler.

Voters in the mostly rural district — largely composed of the northern half of the state’s population and the vast majority of its territory — have a choice among new candidates for the sixth time since 1964, when Maine went to two congressional districts from three. Over that period, the seat has produced three U.S. senators and two governors.

While 53 percent of the district voted for Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012, that’s a smaller percentage than that of the more urban 1st District in southern Maine, where the president won 60 percent of votes.

There are more Democrats than Republicans in Lewiston and Bangor, the district’s two population centers; but there are more Republicans in rural areas, particularly in Piscataquis, Franklin and Washington counties and parts of Penobscot County.

Cain is one of Maine’s more liberal state senators, but she has pushed a record of compromise in the Legislature, where she worked with Republicans to pass budgets and joined forces with LePage on domestic violence law reform.

As state treasurer from 2011 to 2013, Poliquin was a vocal advocate for LePage’s fiscal policy, pushing for pension reform and debt reduction. He won the party’s June primary over a moderate political veteran by burnishing fiscally and socially conservative stances.

However, the 2nd District has long trended toward picking moderate dealmakers, and Cain’s bargaining approach to politics is more like theirs than Poliquin’s style is, said James Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington.

While Cain is “more in the modal style of the district,” he said, Poliquin is trying to “surf a wave” of national conservatism in a mid-term year for Obama, whose party is expected to lose seats in both houses of Congress to Republicans in November.

“I think Poliquin offers a real change from the type of congressman than that district has chosen or any district in Maine has chosen, for that matter,” Melcher said.

The race is also being contested by a third candidate, independent conservative Blaine Richardson, of Belfast.

Going against tradition?

Smith, a Republican, had the district’s seat before going to the Senate in 1949, becoming the first woman to serve in both chambers and, in 1964, actively seek her party’s presidential nomination. She’s now known best for standing up to members of her party during the anti-communist McCarthy era in her 1950 “Declaration of Conscience” speech.

Democrat William Hathaway won the seat in 1964 and upset Smith for a Senate seat in 1972. After that, centrist Republicans Cohen and Snowe took the seat and rode it to the Senate.

Cohen in 1974 voted in favor of two of the three articles seeking the impeachment of fellow Republican Richard Nixon, who resigned the presidency weeks later. In 1997, Cohen became defense secretary under Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Snowe, who held the 2nd District seat from 1979 to 1995, left the Senate in 2013, citing increased partisanship.

Democrat John Baldacci won the 2nd District seat in 1994, becoming Snowe’s successor, before winning two terms as Maine governor.

Michaud is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate Democrats.

Poliquin, 60, of Oakland, got to the general election by galvanizing the district’s conservative Republicans, beating primary challenger Kevin Raye, a moderate former Snowe staffer who lost general elections for the district seat to Michaud in 2002 and 2012.

In television ads during the primary campaign, Poliquin derided Raye as a liberal career politician, campaigning to Raye’s right. Unlike Raye, Poliquin is anti-abortion. Snowe and Cohen were pro-abortion rights Republicans. Since then, Poliquin has signaled appeals to the middle.

Recently, he has pushed back against attempts to brand him a tea party Republican, despite launching his unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign at a tea party event. He also came out in opposition to a lawsuit against Obama being pushed by the Republican House leaders he probably would be joining.

Poliquin is much more conservative than Snowe, but it may not hurt him, said Gail Sheehan, of Brewer, a Republican who served on Snowe’s House and Senate staff for more than 25 years. She said Michaud is a moderate Democrat “and that’s what gave him the edge” in the 2nd District.

While it’s not as liberal as the 1st District, the 2nd District has voted Democratic in presidential elections as long as Maine has, beginning in 1992, the year Bill Clinton was first elected. The state was reliably Republican before then, voting Democratic in only three presidential elections between 1856 and 1992.

Sheehan said she doesn’t think the district is “ready for someone who’s liberal,” such as Cain.

“They’re much more conservative up here,” Sheehan said.

Cain of ‘the same ilk’?

There’s no doubt that Cain, 34, of Orono, has a staunchly liberal voting record. The Sunlight Foundation said that during the most recent legislative term, she was the fifth-most partisan Democrat in her Senate caucus.

For example, she supports universal health care and is pro-abortion rights. Michaud was anti-abortion when he took the seat in 2003, but his stances have changed in recent years and he has found favor with pro-choice groups in his gubernatorial run.

Still, Cain won the Democratic primary in June after stressing a record of compromise as a legislative leader, getting criticized by opponent Troy Jackson’s campaign once for talking “like a Republican.”

Melcher said that attack could be “a tremendous favor for her” in the general election.

Cain also has been careful to invoke the names of popular past seat-holders: Recently, she told MSNBC that Smith and Snowe have inspired her and she “will work hard to live up to the standard” they set.

Sandy Maisel, a Colby College government professor who is a Democrat and worked on Hathaway’s 1972 Senate campaign, said while “nobody would consider Poliquin a moderate Republican” and Cain has a liberal record, she is moderate “in the way she will approach the job.”

“I think in that way, she is of the same ilk as everybody who has represented that district since the 1970s,” Maisel said.

But Sheehan said Cain is more likely than Poliquin to go along with her party’s wishes as she seeks a long political career. His age could free him up more to vote his conscience, she said.

“I don’t think he’s going to be a straight party-line person,” Sheehan said. “I don’t know that Emily’s going to be able to do that when she gets down there.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.