The two leading contenders in the Republican congressional primary in Maine’s 2nd District had strong words this week for the protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol more than a year ago.

A crowd assaults police officers Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. FBI investigation photo

Though the Republican National Committee last Friday said in a formal resolution that the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol was “legitimate political discourse,” neither former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Orrington nor Caratunk town leader Liz Caruso agreed.

Poliquin said the protest “turned into a riot” by some and “those who damaged our U.S. Capitol should be held accountable.”

“Violence and property destruction should never be tolerated at any federal or private building,” Caruso said.

The other contender in the June 14 primary, Garret Swazey of Bangor, did not respond to requests for comment.

The winner of the primary would get the chance to take on two-term U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for what Democrats said was his role in instigating the assault on the Capitol.

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Golden has called the election results that put Biden in office “free and fair” and “fully legitimate.” He denounced Trump for lying about the voting, encouraging his supporters to march to the Capitol and failing to try to rein them in as they stormed the building.

The GOP endorsed a resolution castigating U.S. Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both Republicans, for participating in a House investigation into the assault on the Capitol. It said the pair were participating in a “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the senior elected Republican in Maine, pushed back this week, insisting that “those who assaulted police officers, broke windows, and breached the Capitol were not engaged in legitimate political discourse, and to say otherwise is absurd.”

The one independent in the congressional race, Tiffany Bond of Portland, who placed third in the 2018 race that saw Golden upset Poliquin to take the seat, said Tuesday that “violently breaking into the U.S. Capitol and causing substantial property damage is not a legitimate political discourse.”

She added that instead of targeting Cheney and Kinzinger, “It is the burden of a party to ostracize any of their members who throw out our democratic principles.”

Poliquin, a former two-term congressman from the district, said the protest on Jan. 6 “for some participants, turned into a riot.”

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“Peaceful protests are a cornerstone of our democracy. Violence is not the answer,” he said.

Poliquin and Caruso called for crackdowns as well on those in cities across the country who engaged in destructive behavior during protests after the killing by police of Black Americans.

“Those who caused millions of dollars in damage to other federal buildings and killed a federal law enforcement officer during the spring and summer protests of 2020” should also be held accountable, Poliquin said.

Caruso said that while “the majority of the people who gathered at the National Mall” on Jan. 6 “were peaceful, patriotic citizens,” she compared those who stormed the Capitol to “the 2020 rioters and the current store looters.”

Asked if Democrat Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election, Bond said simply that Biden won. Poliquin and Caruso, though, answered with less than a firm yes.

“According to the extremely flawed, current electoral process that has fewer safety measures than it takes to check out a book from the library, Biden won the election,” Caruso said.

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Poliquin merely pointed out that Trump won Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in both 2016 and 2020. “Unfortunately, Joe Biden is now the president,” he added.

Caruso said that “allegations of fraud are currently being investigated” in Biden’s victory, though there is no evidence of any fraud that would have come close to changing the outcome of the race. Every court case alleging fraud failed and every recount has confirmed the outcome.

Even so, Caruso vowed that “when I’m in Congress, I will take action to investigate allegations of fraud and put security measures in place that will make our elections not only stronger but a system that all Americans can trust.”

“The bedrock of our constitutional republic is anchored on absolute election integrity, both for 2020 and in the future,” she said. “Anything less undermines the most sacred privilege of American citizens.”

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