A Democratic group on Wednesday bought time on Maine television airwaves to attack Bruce Poliquin just before the U.S. House speaker was set to raise money for the Republican running in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

Poliquin and his main opponent, Democrat Emily Cain, have polled close so far, and their parties are placing a priority on the race to replace U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate whose party has controlled the seat since 1995.

On Thursday, the House Majority PAC, a group supporting Democratic congressional candidates, bought nearly $268,000 in ad time on television stations in Portland and Bangor, according to spokesman Matt Thornton.

Their ad, slated to hit the air Friday, attacks Poliquin for, among other things, his support of a budget proposal from U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would change Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors.

In a statement, Matthew Hutson, Poliquin’s campaign manager, called the ad a “nasty attack,” saying the candidate “absolutely will fight to protect Social Security and Medicare.”

That echoed Poliquin’s second ad of the general election, which said those programs must be “protected and strengthened.” However, those two programs are projected to be insolvent by the 2030s.

Poliquin has said for future beneficiaries, he would support raising the Medicare-qualifying age of 65 to account for people living longer. Cain has been endorsed by a group that advocates preserving the programs as they are structured now.

The ad also says Poliquin supports “ending the Medicare guarantee,” a reference to his support of the Ryan budget. That claim is muddy.

While Ryan’s plan would guarantee some level of coverage to seniors, it would not be as universal as the current program, since beneficiaries would choose from plans that suit their needs. The AARP has said this would pass costs on to seniors.

The House Majority PAC is an influential group associated with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that has spent nearly $6 million so far this election cycle. Its ad purchase is the first outside money spent in Maine’s 2nd District race since the June primary.

As a super-PAC, the group can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to support or attack candidates. This year, it mostly has attacked, spending $4.9 million to oppose Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

S. Donald Sussman, the financier husband of Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and the majority owner of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, has given $1.1 million to the House Majority PAC since February 2013. He also has donated to Cain.

The ad purchase came early Thursday before U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was headed to Maine for a closed-door, evening fundraiser for Poliquin at Portland’s Holiday Inn By The Bay.

An invitation to the event says the minimum donation accepted to get in was $250, with $1,000 buying a photo with Boehner. Unions announced a protest of the fundraiser because of Republicans’ opposition to increasing the minimum wage.

A spokeswoman for the House Majority PAC’s Republican-backing counterpart, the Congressional Leadership Fund, said the group hasn’t invested in the 2nd District race yet, but said it is “one to watch.”

Republicans are expected to fare well nationally in 2014, a midterm year for Democratic President Barack Obama, but Cain has led narrowly in polls of the race so far. The only independent one, from the Portland Press Herald in June, had her up on Poliquin 44 percent to 39 percent, a difference that was within the margin of error.

Some analysts have said that the race’s third candidate, independent conservative Blaine Richardson, of Belfast, could tip the race in Cain’s favor. A memo from a Poliquin internal poll released earlier this month showed Richardson with 6 percent support, and Poliquin has asked Richardson to drop out of the race.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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