Thursday November 21, 2013 | 03:38 PM

WASHINGTON – Two Republicans candidates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat are receiving an early nod from their party’s national campaign machine.

Republicans Kevin Raye and Bruce Poliquin were two of 36 people nationwide who made it onto the National Republican Campaign Committee’s initial list of “On the Radar” candidates.

Being “On the Radar” seems to mean pretty much what it says: the candidates get props for setting up a basic campaign organization and are deemed to have potential in what is expected to be a competitive race. To get further support from the NRCC – being labeled a “Young Gun” – they will have to meet specific campaign benchmarks going forward.

“Young Gun” status means the candidate can expect more logistical support and potentially financial help, often in the form of supportive advertising.

Mainers can expect competitive primaries in both parties for the 2nd District race, which is open for the first time since Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud captured the seat in 2002. Michaud is running for governor next year.

Raye is a former state senator and Maine Senate President from Perry who ran last year against Michaud. Raye was named an NRCC "Young Gun" during the 2012 race but only received 36 percent of the vote compared to 59 percent for Michaud.

Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, the 2nd District seat’s current occupant. Michaud is running for governor next year, creating the first open seat in ME-2 since Michaud’s first election in 2002.

Poliquin is a former state treasurer who has previously sought the Republican primary nomination for U.S. Senate and governor. The third declared Republican in the race is Blaine Richardson of Belfast.

On the Democratic side, the slate of announced candidates includes state Sen. Emily Cain of Orono, state Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash and Alden Smith of Sangerville.

Republicans are insisting that the 2nd District is very much in play in 2014. Democrats, who have held the seat for 18 years, unsurprisingly disagree.

In separate but identical press releases (except for the names) announcing Poliquin and Raye’s “radar” status, the NRCC said the two men’s “conservative principles and priorities provide a stark contrast to Barack Obama’s irresponsible agenda.”

Asked about the race this week, the chairman of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – the NRCC’s counterweight from across the aisle – was dismissive of Republican ambitions in Maine.

“Obama won 54 percent in that district. It is a Democratic district,” said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. “With Mike [Michaud] at the top of the ticket, Democrats will do very well in that district. So Republicans portraying this district as competitive is wishful thinking, at best."

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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