OAKLAND — Republican Bruce Poliquin will try to capture a Maine congressional seat that Democrats have controlled for nearly two decades, with his party favored nationally in November’s elections.
On Wednesday, the day after Poliquin and Democrat Emily Cain won their party primaries in the 2nd Congressional District, they began pouncing on their differences and laying the groundwork for a general election campaign to replace six-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who is running for governor.
To win his nomination, Poliquin defeated Kevin Raye, a longtime aide to former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, the last Republican to hold the 2nd District seat, from 1979 to 1994.
Raye and others questioned whether Poliquin, an uncompromising conservative, can beat Cain, a liberal known for legislative deal-making with Republicans.
On Wednesday afternoon, about 12 hours after beating Raye, Poliquin mingled with supporters at a pizza shop in Oakland, where he lives.
Poliquin, a 60-year-old former state treasurer who lost primary bids for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2012, rejected notions that he may be hard to elect in the 2nd District, telling reporters that voters who want a strong economy will vote for him because of his fiscal conservatism and record of job creation. Poliquin has cited reducing the national debt and reforming Social Security and Medicare as his top issues.
“We want to appeal to everybody,” he said, “everybody who wants their kids to have a better life and be able to live in the state of Maine and in the 2nd District, that’s someone who should vote for me.”
Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said Cain is the favorite as the campaign starts, and Poliquin will have “a very hard time taking this seat in November” because he is more conservative than Raye and the moderates who have held the seat most recently – Michaud, Snowe and John Baldacci. That could mean a smaller base of support for Poliquin in the general election, Brewer said.
Also, Blaine Richardson of Belfast, a conservative independent, will be on the ballot and is expected to take votes from Poliquin.
Cain, 34, a state senator from Orono, welcomed Poliquin’s win in an interview Wednesday, after her primary win over Troy Jackson of Allagash, Maine’s Senate majority leader.
She said she has a better chance of winning against Poliquin than she would have had against Raye because voters will see more of a contrast. For example, she supports same-sex marriage, abortion rights and raising the minimum wage. Poliquin doesn’t.
“He has outlined in his campaign for the last several months that all he wants to do is cut, cut, cut,” Cain said of Poliquin. “I want us to grow Maine’s economy, and those are very key differences.”
Cain, who was first elected to the Maine Legislature in 2004, was House minority leader after Republicans won control of the Legislature and the governor’s office in 2010.
On Wednesday, Poliquin linked Cain to past years’ reports in Forbes magazine ranking Maine’s business climate as the nation’s worst, years of perceived overspending and what he called other negative consequences of Democratic leadership.
“If you want more of that in Washington, then I’m not your candidate. There’s someone else you can choose,” Poliquin said. “But if you want someone to bring business skills, skills to fix the financial mess that we’re in down there, then I’m the much better choice.”
As state treasurer from 2011 to early 2013, Poliquin led the way in advocating for reforms that are still praised by Republicans and hated by Democrats, including pension reductions for state workers that passed in a 2011 state budget.
Poliquin faced heat in 2012 over his enrollment in a state tax-break program.
Originally from Waterville, he moved from coastal Georgetown to a family home in Oakland in August 2013 to run for Congress. Raye made that a key issue in his campaign.
On Tuesday, when Raye conceded defeat, he didn’t express outright support for Poliquin, as Jackson did for Cain in his concession speech. Raye said Poliquin will have trouble winning against Cain.
Brewer, at UMaine, agreed, saying Poliquin has “a very specialized, foundational group of supporters and it’s hard to see how much bigger he can make that.”
Republicans are favored nationally in this year’s elections, with Democratic President Obama midway through his final term. The Washington Post’s Election Lab has given Republicans a 63 percent chance of winning Maine’s 2nd District seat in November.
Republican voters outnumbered Democrats by nearly 7,000 on Tuesday in the vast, largely rural 2nd District. In a prepared statement, Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett said that shows the party is “clearly energized about this year’s elections.”
Cain said her party also will be energized in Maine this year, buoyed especially at the polls by Michaud’s run against Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler.
“We’re both talking about working across the aisle, both talking about focusing on the economy,” she said of herself and Michaud. “That’s what Democrats are going to be doing this year and I think it’s going to be something that resonates across the whole state.”
In Maine’s 1st Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree had no opponent for the nomination. She will be on the Nov. 4 ballot facing Republican Isaac Misiuk of Gorham and independent Richard Murphy of Sanford.