In a secret audio recording released Friday, Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin told a group of supporters that he avoids speaking on the record with the press because he’s afraid he would lose his seat in the next election.

Poliquin, a Republican, has gained a notorious reputation for dodging state and national media, including during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he would not say whether he supported the candidacy of Donald Trump.

“You think the press is bad in Maine? It’s unbelievable and they are dying to get you on record to say whatever and that becomes the next, so …” Poliquin said, explaining why he doesn’t talk to reporters. “It would be stupid for me to engage the national media and give them and everybody else the ammunition they need.”

In May, Jim Newell, a writer for the online publication Slate, reported Poliquin ducked into a restroom to avoid questions on the Republicans’ Affordable Care Act replacement bill.

Poliquin at first headed for the women’s bathroom before realizing his mistake. “Unfortunately it was the door to the women’s restroom that he had first run to, so he corrected himself and went into the men’s room. When he emerged several minutes later, he was wearing his earbuds and scurried away,” Newell wrote.

But speaking to a friendly crowd of supporters at an event in Bangor hosted by the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, Poliquin said there was a strategy behind his hiding from the press, especially at the national level.

“As soon as you go down that path, you are in the swamp,” Poliquin is heard saying in an audio recording that was released by a liberal online publication, the Maine Beacon. The comments were first reported by the Lewiston Sun Journal.

“I drove the press crazy for nine months because I stayed on message focusing on what I was going to do to help my state and my district and it worked,” Poliquin says in the recording obtained by the Maine People’s Alliance, a left-leaning organization that often supports Democratic candidates and causes.

In the recording, Poliquin explains why he dodges the press.

“The reason is because they need our seat,” Poliquin said, referring to the Republican Party. “There are two dozen, that’s it, two dozen swing districts in the country, 435 members of Congress, two dozen (seats), 20-25, we win them, we are in the majority, we can advance the agenda. That’s just the reality of the numbers, so we’ve got to be incredibly careful. It would be stupid for me to engage the national media to give them and everybody else the ammunition they need and we would lose this seat, but I get it.”

A call to Poliquin seeking comment went unreturned Friday.

In an email message to the Portland Press Herald, Poliquin’s chief political adviser, Brent Littlefield, said Poliquin was speaking about the national media. “He has focused in interviews on his job, his work for Maine’s 2nd District and not national politics,” Littlefield wrote. “There is nothing new here.”

Littlefield also wrote that Poliquin had granted interviews with reporters in Maine in recent days, including holding a news conference in Bangor earlier this week.

Mike Tipping, communications director for the Maine People’s Alliance, provided the Press Herald with an excerpt from the audio recording but declined to release a copy of the full recording. “There’s some table talk among folks who aren’t public officials, so I don’t think it would be appropriate to send you the whole thing, but I’ll be posting some more clips next week,” Tipping wrote in an email message.

Poliquin is running for re-election for a third term in Congress. He first won the seat in 2014, when his predecessor, Democrat Mike Michaud, stepped down to run for the governor’s office. So far, Poliquin is the only Republican candidate in the race, but at least five Democrats have announced they will seek their party’s nomination to challenge him in 2018.

On Thursday, state Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, a Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced his campaign for the seat.

Golden, who was recruited for the race by Democrats at the national level, is viewed by national political observers as a serious contender.

On Friday, the Cook Political report, which analyzes congressional races from a national perspective, shifted its rating for Maine’s 2nd District in 2018 from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican,” noting the change was a result of Golden’s entry into the race.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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