The news Wednesday that President Barack Obama has designated about 87,500 acres of Maine’s North Woods as a national monument has put the controversial issue front and center in the state’s 2nd Congressional District race.

Of the two competing for the seat, incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, took the clearest stance Wednesday, saying in a prepared statement that he was opposed to such “a unilateral decision” by the Obama administration, but adding that he will “continue to work with everyone to move this project forward in the right way in order to build a stronger economy that creates more and better-paying jobs in the Katahdin region and in Maine.”

His opponent, Democrat Emily Cain, said in a brief prepared statement that she’s said for months her support for such a decision “needs to be part of a plan to create jobs and protect the region’s hunting, sporting and logging traditions.”

“A monument designation was never the best way to handle this issue,” Cain said. “Now that a decision has been made, we need to take advantage of the opportunity to create jobs for families in the Katahdin region and protect access for hunting, snowmobiling and other traditional uses.”

Asked whether Cain specifically opposed Obama’s decision, Daniel Gleick, a campaign spokesman, released an additional statement from the candidate saying, “In order to guarantee access for outdoor recreation and traditional use, including hunting, a transparent process that included more public input and congressional oversight would have been better.”

Politically, the issue is likely to help Poliquin more than Cain, said Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington.

He said the tone of their statements suggest Poliquin is going to be more eager to talk about it than Cain.

“The monument idea is quite popular in many places — the rest of New England and the 1st District among them — but there’s a lot more opposition in the 2nd District, out of fears of harm to the forest industry and fear of federal overreach,” he said. “Poliquin’s campaign seems sure to develop both themes.”

Melcher said he was struck by both candidates focusing less on their concerns about the decision and more on making the best of it.

The question of whether the land should be designated a national monument — perhaps even a national park, which requires congressional approval — has divided for years those in Maine’s 2nd District, which represents nearly 80 percent of the state geographically. The land was donated to the federal government this week by Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the nonprofit organization formed by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of the Burt’s Bees product line. National parks are protected for more specific reasons than national monuments — mostly scenic, environmental and recreational — while national monuments have more varied content, fewer restrictions and are not always managed by the National Park Service, which oversees national parks. The North Woods monument will be managed by the park service.

During the 2014 campaign, in which Poliquin defeated Cain to win the open congressional seat, Cain said she “could see a path” for a national park. Her Democratic primary opponent, Troy Jackson, opposed the move.

Poliquin joined U.S. Sens. Angus King, an independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican, in sending a letter to Obama last November that outlined concerns about a monument designation and asked the president to listen to locals. The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, at Poliquin’s request, met in East Millinocket three months ago for a field hearing on the monument, though the hearing involved only opponents. Poliquin later held a public forum on the issue that featured dozens of speakers from both sides, both monument supporters and opponents.

Several towns in the Mount Katahdin region have voted against a monument in nonbinding referendums, although polls have suggested the majority of Maine voters, including a majority in the 2nd District, supported a hypothetical monument designation. Also, the Legislature has passed a resolution opposing the designation.

Poliquin pointed to those votes and community concerns in his Wednesday statement, while also saying he encouraged the Obama administration “to work with the local communities, the state of Maine and our congressional delegation to help create more badly-needed jobs in central Maine.”

Meanwhile, Melcher thinks Cain’s response — even while holding out hope that the designation could create new jobs — nevertheless undercuts Obama’s statement “in which he talked about hearing support from Mainers for the idea.”

“His critics can now fire back that even a pretty liberal Democratic candidate from that district did not think the monument decision was the way to go,” Melcher said.

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