If it seems like Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race has been going on for years, that’s because it has. This isn’t a record — in New Hampshire’s 1st District, the same candidates have now faced each other four consecutive times — but it’s still not a good sign.

When Democrat Mike Michaud ran for governor for 2014, leaving the seat he’d held for 12 years, Bruce Poliquin and Emily Cain were fast-tracked into the nominations with the aid of national political lobbies that are often more important than the parties in determining who’s on the November ballot.

Poliquin, who’d returned to Maine after doing well on Wall Street, ran for the Republican nominations for governor in 2010 and U.S. senator in 2012, losing both times, but positioning himself for another opportunity. Poliquin, with no track record to speak of, defeated Kevin Raye in the 2014 primary at a time when Republican moderates like Raye were fast disappearing.

Cain had an even easier time against Troy Jackson, a former logger from Aroostook County, whose passionate speeches stirred audiences but was no match for Cain’s fundraising; she was an early favorite of Emily’s List and benefited from the League of Conservation Voters’ startling demonization of Jackson.

In November, Poliquin won the seat by 5 percent over Cain; 2014 saw the lowest congressional election year turnout, nationally, in 72 years, which favors Republicans.

Three days after the election, Cain announced she was running again, with no second thoughts about losing a congressional seat Democrats had held for 20 years. Asked why, she said it would be a different electorate in 2016 — not much of a reason to run.

One month away from the rematch result, things are as one might have expected. According to Open Secrets, a website that tracks “independent” PAC spending, the 2nd District race is the 20th most expensive race nationally, and eighth among congressional contests, with $4.2 million committed so far.

Some $1.5 million has been spent against Cain; $2.4 million against Poliquin. Ads supporting the candidates? Cain has garnered $278,169, while Poliquin has zero.

The candidates themselves have bombarded the airwaves and internet with ads attacking each other, saying next to nothing about their own priorities except for the blandest generalities.

In a campaign with so many unanswered questions, two non-answers stand out.

For Cain, it’s her lack of any position on perhaps the hottest issue in the 2nd District — President Barack Obama’s creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which supporters see as prelude to an eventual national park.

Poliquin is foursquare against a park, even conducting a field hearing at the Millinocket Town Office which, curiously, featured testimony only from opponents — yet was upstaged when park supporters dominated the audience.

Cain’s last statement on the park, way back when, was that it would be better for Congress to consider a national park — a transparent evasion, since no bill had even been introduced. Presumably, her national funders warned her against getting involved in such a “controversial” issue, yet since just about every potential constituent has an opinion, it’s strange she doesn’t.

For Poliquin, the non-answer is obvious. Everywhere, Republicans have been for, or against — or for and then against — the campaign of Donald Trump. Poliquin, amazingly, has said nothing about Trump’s candidacy, on numerous occasions dodging reporters trying to find out.

True, he tweeted last Friday that the 2005 Trump tape was “repulsive” — but still wouldn’t say whether he’d vote for him. Poliquin is clearly trying to avoid alienating voters who back Trump, as well as those Republicans who can’t stomach him.

So does Poliquin trust Trump to appoint Supreme Court judges? Command U.S. nuclear forces? Apparently, we’re not about to find out.

Those who’ve observed Poliquin closely say he’s a surprisingly earnest and congenial campaigner, who remembers everyone’s name and strives to make a personal connection. If he paid his property taxes, he might even seem like a good neighbor.

Cain, a legislator for 10 years and House Democratic leader for two, is praised for her ability to make a deal even when tempers run short. Of course, it pays to examine the actual deals first, particularly the mammoth 2011 tax cut she voted for that has left Maine drastically short of revenue.

With so little on record about either candidate, the result in November, as it was in 2014, may reflect national trends more than anything Poliquin or Cain says or stands for. Unless one of them suddenly speaks out, count it as yet another missed opportunity to provide leadership for a state that badly needs it.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 32 years. His new book, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now available. Comment is welcomed at: [email protected]


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