The 2016 campaign in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District kicked off Tuesday when Democrat Emily Cain said that she will seek a rematch with freshman U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

The move by Cain, a 34-year-old former state senator from Orono, was widely expected and sets up what promises to be one of the priority national races for the U.S. House of Representatives next year, but it came 20 months before Election Day and just two months after the Republican congressman’s swearing-in.

After Cain’s announcement Tuesday, a news release from the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House majority’s campaign arm, led with one word: “Yawn.”

Two potential primary rivals said Cain’s announcement won’t scare them away. Michael Cuzzi, a Democratic strategist who has worked for President Barack Obama, said he’s “not surprised that Emily is running, but I’m surprised that the announcement has come this early.”

“Poliquin hasn’t really had a chance to establish a record that provides Emily with a compelling case to run against,” Cuzzi said, “so what this ends up looking like is a continuation of the last campaign rather than the launch of a new campaign.”

In an interview, Cain said while she was proud of her last campaign, the next one must be “even stronger.” She said she announced early to “include as many people as possible” in that effort.

“There’s no question this is going to have to be bigger, and this is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time from a lot of people,” Cain said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been pushing Cain to run ever since she lost the November election to Poliquin, gaining just 42 percent of votes. Their 2014 race was the most expensive U.S. House race in Maine history with outside groups spending $3 million trying to get Cain or Poliquin elected. But since the modern-era 2nd District was created in the 1960s, no incumbent has ever lost.

Both parties are bracing themselves for an expensive contest in 2016. Poliquin is one of 12 House members in a national Republican program for vulnerable incumbents, while Democrats have dubbed him one of 15 vulnerable Republican “one-term wonders,” expecting their party to be in a good position to gain seats in a presidential election year. On Tuesday, the DCCC targeted Poliquin in a round of robo-calls to voters in 29 Republican districts attacking members on Department of Homeland Security funding.

Cain’s 2014 campaign was built on a message of compromise, touting her work “staying at the table” to negotiate with Republicans for a decade in the Maine Legislature. In a June primary, she easily beat Troy Jackson, a logger and labor Democrat from Allagash who criticized her for voting for tax cuts “for the rich.”

Cuzzi, a Maine Sunday Telegram columnist, said national Democrats see “a stronger opportunity for Emily to prevail in a presidential year,” but Democratic primary voters have undergone an “ideological hardening” since the 2014 elections, referencing an effort to draft liberal U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to run for the party’s presidential nod in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. He said primary voters now might be “looking for someone who will stand and fight for core Democratic principles rather than trying to govern and deliver pragmatic compromise.”

On Tuesday, Jackson, now a Democratic national committeeman from Maine, said he’s thinking of running again. He said Cain’s announcement wouldn’t push him out and that Poliquin won his campaign by staking out strong conservative positions.

“When it comes down to their issue, I don’t think people care about who’s partisan,” Jackson said. “They want people to fight for them and get results.”

Bangor city councilors Ben Sprague and Joe Baldacci have said they’re considering primary runs in 2016. But on Tuesday, Sprague ended speculation about a run, saying he plans to “help grow the Maine economy from the municipal level of government” and that Cain would make a great representative.

However, when asked whether Cain’s entry changed anything for him, Baldacci said no.

“I think we all expected her to make another attempt,” he said.

On Tuesday, Poliquin’s political consultant, Brent Littlefield, issued a statement saying Cain’s “Washington advisers are quite desperate to tap into her donors,” but “they should hold onto their purses and wallets.”

Since his election, Poliquin, a Republican, has rankled some activists in his party. Notably, he voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act, saying while he opposes it, his party must have a law ready to replace it. Littlefield said Poliquin “is rejecting politics as usual,” renewing a 2014 campaign attack on Cain’s support of a carbon tax, saying it’s one of her “expensive, extreme policies.”

But Cain called Poliquin’s health care vote “very political,” saying he has voted against abortion rights and the environment. He has backed a bill aimed at prohibiting taxpayer-funded abortions and supports the Keystone XL pipeline, and Cain said he hasn’t been centrist so far.

“What we’ve seen is that he’s just as extreme as ever and that he’s as political as ever,” she said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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