In Maine, the election in the 2nd Congressional District is playing second banana to the governor’s race, but the result could be just as close and nearly as important to the state’s political future.

Democrat Emily Cain, an Orono state senator, and Republican Bruce Poliquin, a former state treasurer from Oakland, are vying for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat running for governor.

The 2nd District, which covers 80 percent of Maine’s geography and the northern half of its population, leans Democratic. But election night could go down to the wire with recent polling suggesting that it’s a toss-up complicated by a third candidate, independent conservative Blaine Richardson of Belfast.

Cain scheduled campaign stops on Monday in Skowhegan, Farmington and Rumford with Poliquin making a 260-mile swing from Presque Isle to Lewiston to make last-minute appeals to voters in an election that could produce Maine’s next political star.

Here are four things to watch for as the campaigning comes to an end and results start coming in.

STATE OF THE RACE?

The Maine People’s Resource Center, a liberal group, released a poll Monday that showed the race essentially tied, giving Poliquin 43 percent of support to Cain’s 42 percent, well within the 5 percent margin of error.

That matches the recent trend in this race. A Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll released in late October showed Poliquin up by one percentage point, then a poll released later that week by Critical Insights showed Cain up by a point. The close polling gives Republicans a solid chance at a pick-up in a district that has been Democratic since 1995.

Still, national handicappers have given Cain a slight edge largely because the district leans slightly Democratic, but it’s less liberal than Maine as a whole and 2014 should be a good year for national Republicans in a midterm year for Democratic President Barack Obama. That mid-term effect may not be so pronounced in Maine, where Democrats are ginned up to depose Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

But there’s a unique wild card that could favor Poliquin: Maine’s statewide referendum to ban bear baiting, trapping and hounding is expected to be widely unpopular in the 2nd District, where all candidates oppose it. When the same issue went to voters in 2004, no 2nd District county voted for it. In Cumberland, York and Knox counties, the only ones that backed banning the methods a decade ago, only 17 bears out of 3,200 statewide were taken by hunters in 2012.

Many non-regular voters from well-hunted areas like Aroostook, Washington and Franklin counties could turn out to try to defeat the referendum, and many could side with pro-gun rights Republicans like Poliquin, who is endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

LONGSHOT AND UNDECIDEDS

Richardson gained 10 percent of votes in the Maine People’s Resource Center poll. In the other two, he registered 8 percent.

He could play an out-sized role in a close election, said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine. Richardson is a staunch advocate of limited government, appealing to the right-most fringes of the electorate and thereby harming Poliquin’s chances of getting elected with conservative support.

The Republican has signaled some worry. In a Thursday radio interview, Poliquin said that a vote for Richardson is as good as one for Cain, an argument Richardson has rejected.

Even though Poliquin still led the most recent poll with Richardson carrying a tenth of respondents, 5 percent remained undecided. If Cain can win the battle over those voters, even slightly, Richardson may spur her to victory.

“If Blaine Richardson gets 5 percent or more,” Brewer said, “Bruce Poliquin can’t win.”

MAINE’S POLITICAL FUTURE

This election’s winner inherits a prestigious seat. Since 1965, it has produced three U.S. senators (William Hathaway, William Cohen and Olympia Snowe), one governor (John Baldacci) and one potential governor in Michaud.

At some point, speculation will begin around what’s next for the candidate who wins the seat. Poliquin, 60, supports congressional term limits and has said he doesn’t want to remain in Washington until he’s an octogenarian. Cain is just 34 and doesn’t support term limits.

The Republican ran in a primary for governor once in 2010. If Poliquin wins a seat in Congress, he’d be a possible GOP favorite for the Blaine House in 2018, especially if LePage beats Michaud, creating an open seat. Cain could take more time to build a profile in Washington.

Other than a gubernatorial race, there’s no obvious path to higher office. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, 61, should cruise to re-election on Tuesday, according to polls. Independent Angus King, the junior senator, is 70, but is popular and has a Twitter account reserved for a 2018 campaign.

AS THESE TOWNS GO?

This is unscientific, but interesting: Four small towns — with a combined population of less than 5,500 — have favored 2nd District candidates by essentially the same margins as the rest of the district in the two elections since 2010.

In 2012, Michaud got 56 percent of votes in Clinton, Mercer, Island Falls and Prospect, the same share with which he won his sixth term over Raye. Two years earlier, voters in those towns only erred by plus or minus one percentage point when Michaud beat Republican Jason Levesque with 53 percent of votes.

Does it matter? Maybe not, since these candidates are new to district-wide general elections. But these towns could have the district’s formula down. Why not flag them once tallies start rolling in?

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.