FREEPORT — Democrat Emily Cain cited her experience as a reason she’s the best candidate to win back Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, but primary challenger Joe Baldacci said on Sunday it’s time “for Democrats to run as Democrats.”

The two candidates for their party’s 2016 nomination to take on U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, shared the stage at a fundraiser for the Maine Democratic Party at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport on Sunday afternoon.

It was the first time that Cain and Baldacci have appeared together since he entered the race in late July. He faces a challenge against Cain, who was the party’s nominee in 2014, but lost the seat to Poliquin after 20 years of Democratic control.

Emily Cain, of Orono, addresses Democrats at the Muskie Lobster Bake in Freeport. Andy Molloy/Staff Photographer

Emily Cain, of Orono, addresses Democrats at the Muskie Lobster Bake in Freeport. Andy Molloy/Staff Photographer

In her speech, Cain, a 35-year-old former state senator from Orono, blamed external factors for her loss in 2014, an electoral year that she called “a perfect storm” for Republicans.

She said conservatives were motivated to keep Republican Gov. Paul LePage in office and beat back a referendum banning methods of bear hunting that was widely unpopular in the rural district. But she said 2016 will be different: It’s a presidential year and 2nd District voters have backed the Democrat presidential candidate in each election since 1992.

However, Poliquin’s team is fond of pointing out that incumbents are hard to beat in Maine: No sitting representative has lost in the 2nd District since its modern-era version was created in the 1960s.

Still, Cain said she knows the “lay of the land” in the district and has the name recognition to beat Poliquin, touting backing from national Democrats in her bid, saying “national support follows district support.”

“Me and my team, we have learned from the pitfalls of 2014, we’ve learned from what didn’t go well and we are coming back bigger, better and stronger than ever,” she said.

Joe Baldacci, of Bangor, entered the race for the Congressional seat in in July. Andy Molloy/Staff Photographer

Joe Baldacci, of Bangor, entered the race for the Congressional seat in in July. Andy Molloy/Staff Photographer

But Baldacci, 50, a Bangor city councilor, attorney and the brother of former Gov. John Baldacci, took thinly veiled shots at Cain’s 10-year stint in the Maine Legislature.

In 2010, Cain was House minority leader after LePage won the Blaine House and Republicans took both legislative chambers. She helped negotiate a budget that included tax cuts that Democrats have criticized ever since as being “for the rich.”

Cain was criticized for that in her 2014 primary and said she didn’t like the cuts, but that she voted for the budget because of other things that Democrats fought to protect. However, she spun that vote in a positive way in general election ads, taking credit for voting for that tax cut and others.

After 2014 losses, Baldacci said that Maine Democrats must “take a long look at ourselves and ask, ‘What did we do wrong in the last election?’”

“It is time for Democrats to run as Democrats,” he said.

Both candidates united to criticize Poliquin, who Cain called “the wrong guy for the job.” Baldacci hit him for voting to repeal the estate tax and supporting a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs budget that has been criticized by the Obama administration for being $1.4 billion less than it asked for.

On Sunday, Poliquin adviser Brent Littlefield said Cain and Baldacci are following “the same failed script,” running a “campaign of negativity” as Poliquin “successfully saves jobs, helps grow Maine’s economy, and protects taxpayers.”

The rank-and-file were temperate on the race on Sunday. Cathy Newell of Greenwood, chair of the Oxford County Democratic Party, didn’t say how she’d vote because of her position.

However, she said Baldacci could gain support from some in her area — similar to a grassroots groundswell for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator running an underdog campaign against Hillary Clinton.

“I’m very fond of Emily; I’m very fond of Joe; I’m very fond of his brother,” Newell said. “I don’t know. We’ll just see where it goes.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
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