SKOWHEGAN — Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin refused Tuesday to comment on Donald Trump after touring the New Balance shoe factory, ignoring reporters’ questions about the GOP presidential nominee and saying instead he’s “not getting involved in any of this media circus.”

Poliquin, a 2nd District congressman who is up for re-election and faces a challenge from Democrat Emily Cain, has refused to comment on Trump several times previously.

His comments on Tuesday, though, came on the heels of widespread criticism of Trump over statements Trump made in 2005 about women that were made public last week. Several high-profile Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, have said they won’t vote for Trump in the wake of the controversy.

Trump is scheduled to hold a rally Saturday in Bangor, one of the more populous cities in the 2nd District. Asked Tuesday outside the New Balance factory whether he will attend the rally, Poliquin said he was on an “official visit by our congressional office” at the Skowhegan shoe factory and he was proud to represent “the best shoemakers in the world.”

When asked if Trump should drop out of the race — as some prominent Republicans have called for — Poliquin said he’d “continue to do” his job and instead talked at length about shoe-making legislation that benefits New Balance and helps protect the company’s “900 good-paying jobs with benefits.”

“I am not getting involved in any of this media circus surrounding our presidential election. I am working for these people and I am so proud to do it,” Poliquin said.

When reporters questioned him again on Trump, Poliquin turned and walked away, ignoring them.

Brent Littlefield, a campaign spokesman for Poliquin, said in an email after Tuesday’s visit that it was “ridiculous” for reporters to ask Poliquin questions about Trump. Littlefield cited a statement Poliquin released over the weekend responding to Trump’s remarks on women, calling the remarks “repulsive,” but not answering the question of whether he will support the GOP nominee.

In 2012, Poliquin, then the Maine state treasurer, endorsed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, though Poliquin on several occasions this year has declined to comment on Trump, saying he is focused on his own work as a congressman. When asked about the change in philosophy Tuesday, Michael Byerly, press secretary for Poliquin’s campaign, said the difference is that Poliquin was elected state treasurer by the Maine Legislature as opposed to being elected by the Maine people to Congress.

“He is honored and humbled to have their support and is working each and every day on their behalf to curb the opioid epidemic, reduce wasteful spending and fight against terrorism,” Byerly said.

Poliquin’s opponent in the 2nd District, Cain, also on Tuesday declined to comment on whether Trump should drop out of the presidential race. A spokesman instead noted in an email that Cain, who endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton, has “been clear that she’s voting for his opponent.”

Some New Balance workers Tuesday expressed dismay at Poliquin’s reaction when an employee outside the factory asked him if he will support Trump. The question came from a man in the crowd after Poliquin finished delivering remarks to about 200 workers outside the factory. Poliquin’s remarks focused on the Trans Pacific Partnership, an international trade agreement that New Balance has opposed; and the Berry Amendment, a federal law requiring the U.S. military to outfit recruits with American-made gear.

“You say you’re a Republican, but will you vote for Donald Trump?” the man asked.

Poliquin responded saying, “I am voting for New Balance shoes to be made in America and put on the feet of our men and women in uniform.”

“I don’t know what to think,” Sheri Nichols, a New Balance employee from New Sharon, said afterward. “He kind of copped out on answering the question by saying he’s voting for New Balance.”

Nichols, 40, said she is an independent and undecided about whom she will vote for in the 2nd Congressional District race.

“He’s supposed to answer our questions,” Nichols said of Poliquin. “Probably more people would have asked follow-up questions (about other things), but after blowing it off everybody else just left and went to lunch. He didn’t really take it seriously, I guess.”

But Donna St. Pierre, another New Balance employee, said Poliquin’s response didn’t bother her. St. Pierre is not registered to vote and said she doesn’t plan to participate in the election.

“That’s his right,” she said of Poliquin. “Your vote is private business, and I think he handled it well.”

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm