When asked what he thinks about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin told a reporter for the national magazine Politico that it was a “good question,” then waited in silence for an elevator without saying another word, according to the magazine.

He dodged three questions on the candidate when asked by a reporter for Roll Call, who said Poliquin “stared straight ahead and occasionally looked at his phone” before walking away to another press conference.

A statement released by Poliquin’s campaign on the presidential race doesn’t name Trump, but says that of the two candidates for president, “only one candidate has been a major job creator.” When asked for clarification, a spokesman for Poliquin refused to say Trump’s name.

At a news conference in Orono last month, reporters were told that Poliquin would answer questions about only one topic — the state’s paper industry. He later walked away when a Morning Sentinel reporter asked him a question on Trump’s position on free trade.

While he reportedly privately says positive things about the divisive GOP candidate, in public Poliquin not only won’t respond to questions about Trump, he won’t even say his name.

On Tuesday, Poliquin again refused to comment on Trump — or speak his name — the day after U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, also a Republican, denounced Trump’s nomination in an op-ed in The Washington Post.


“The Maine media is obsessed with the presidential race,” said Michael Byerly, a campaign spokesman for Poliquin, in an email. “Congressman Bruce Poliquin is obsessed with curbing the opioid epidemic, creating jobs, growing the economy and fighting terrorism.”

Byerly would not comment further when asked why Poliquin can’t talk about the presidential race while also working on the issues referenced in the email.

Poliquin’s avoidance of all things Trump is raising eyebrows among politics watchers, criticism from opponents and a plea to come out in support of Trump from at least one party official in Maine.

“He has a right to have not made up his mind yet, but I’m more skeptical about the ‘too busy’ part,” said James Melcher, a professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington, who called Poliquin’s statement that he is working on other issues “as much of an excuse as anything.”

Poliquin’s opponent, Democrat Emily Cain, took a harder line.

“Senator Collins’ refusal to back Donald Trump has blown the lid off of Congressman Poliquin’s strategy of playing both sides,” Cain said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “We deserve honest leadership.” Cain has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.


Poliquin’s 2nd District seat is among several that Democrats have targeted nationally this election cycle, and the district could also be targeted by Trump as a place he could pick up one of the state’s four electoral votes. A recent Maine Sunday Telegram poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center shows Trump with a 1 percentage point lead over Clinton among likely voters in the 2nd District, which includes about two-thirds of the state — the largely rural western, northern and central regions.

The poll also shows this year’s race between Cain and Poliquin to be virtually tied, with Poliquin at 41 percent among likely voters, Cain at 40 percent and 12 percent undecided. In 2014, Poliquin defeated Cain by 5 percentage points in a three-way race.

In the Washington Post op-ed Monday, Collins criticized Trump for his recent attack on the parents of a Muslim U.S. Army veteran killed in Iraq, his bias against a federal judge of Mexican ancestry and mocking a reporter with disabilities. She said that he “lacks the temperament, self-discipline and judgment to be president.” The column was printed in Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald and Wednesday’s Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel and appears on the websites of all three newspapers.

Melcher said it’s reasonable for Poliquin to remain undecided on whether he will support Trump, but at the same time it’s also reasonable for voters to want to know what he thinks of the candidate.

“In (Poliquin’s) defense, this is a complicated decision because of all the baggage Trump has, but he has to have been thinking about this,” Melcher said.

Androscoggin County Republican Committee Vice Chairman Jason Greene said Tuesday that Poliquin should make his support of Trump public.


In an interview Tuesday, Greene said Poliquin has said he supported Trump at Republican committee meetings and he feels it would be to Poliquin’s advantage also to do so publicly.

“He’s enjoyed great success. I think he’s demonstrated independence with his opposition to (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and his support for Maine-made products,” Greene said of Poliquin. “I think he should come out and embrace the rest of the Trump agenda.”

Melcher said it’s not surprising that Collins, a moderate Republican who previously expressed reservations about Trump’s nomination, was among the first prominent Republicans nationally to say outright that she will not vote for her party’s nominee.

In Maine state politics, Sen. Roger Katz is the highest-profile Republican to say he will not support Trump, calling the candidate “not fit to be president” last week in an op-ed in the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal. Katz, of Augusta, represents District 15, which includes Augusta, China, Oakland, Sidney and Vassalboro.

Poliquin was state treasurer under Gov. Paul LePage before he ran for Congress. The two also share political advisor Brent Littlefield, who is Poliquin’s strategic and media advisor, who served as an advisor to LePage in his 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial elections.

LePage has endorsed Trump and appeared beside him at two campaign rallies in the state, including Saturday, when Trump singled out Maine’s Somali immigrant population, linking them to an increase in crime in the state.


Collins at the time said those remarks were disparaging and unhelpful.

Byerly would not comment when asked Tuesday what Poliquin thought specifically of Trump mocking the reporter, Serge Kovaleski; his criticism of the Khan family; or Trump’s comments on Somali immigrants. He also refused to comment directly on them last week when asked by the Portland Press Herald, saying instead that “the congressman is not participating in the day-to-day media carnival surrounding the presidential campaign.”

Poliquin also declined to comment to the Portland Press Herald last month after a reporter saw him leave the scene of a meeting between Trump and Republican members of Congress, and has declined to comment on Trump’s official nomination at the Republican National Convention.

In May, Poliquin was overheard telling a group of conservative activists in Portland that he felt “Trump’s going to win it all,” and that he would work with him to implement policy, according to a leaked audio recording published in the Bangor Daily News by liberal blogger Mike Tipping, who is also communications director for the Maine People’s Alliance.

Littlefield would not comment Tuesday when asked about Greene’s claims that Poliquin has voiced support privately for Trump.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368


Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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