June 6, 2012

Political Notebook: Unclear why Poliquin is targeted

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Is State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin the frontrunner in the six-way Republican U.S. Senate primary?

Poliquin isn’t the only one to think so, especially after rival Republicans candidates criticized him in the media last week.

The GOP primary race had been a decidedly friendly contest until Poliquin drew fire from opponents for running on the coattails of Gov. Paul LePage. The conservative governor’s support would carry a lot of weight in the GOP primary but for the fact he hasn’t endorsed anyone. Then Poliquin got criticized for siding with environmentalists and opposing the widening of the Maine Turnpike two decades ago.

It is true that the political attacks are most often aimed at the frontrunner. But there is another theory circulating, as well: Poliquin is losing the race, but he’s an easy target for opponents who want to get some media attention in the final days of the primary campaign.

There are no independent polling numbers to say for sure who is right. The identity of the frontrunner, if there is one, could become clearer this week. The Portland Press Herald, WGME 13 and WGAN radio are sponsoring a televised debate Saturday evening. Look for the candidate with the big target on his or her back. If there are still any doubts then, it’ll all be cleared up June 12.

HIS OWN BIGGEST CONTRIBUTOR

Poliquin is clearly leading his rivals in one area: spending his own money.

The treasurer issued a news release last week saying he had raised $229,214 in the latest campaign finance reporting period, more than any other Republican in the race. However, unlike some of his opponents, he did not disclose where the money came from or how much he donated to his own campaign.

The now public filing indicates he personally contributed $109,005, or just less than half of his total, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Poliquin has spent most of that money – he had $18,927.69 left as of May 23. But Poliquin, unlike his opponents, can always go back to his biggest donor for more money. Candidates can contribute an unlimited amount to their own campaigns, while everyone else is limited to $2,500 for the primary.
Poliquin’s personal investment was widely expected. A former investment manager, he self-financed most of his unsuccessful, $700,000 gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

But it is sure to be used against him by his rivals, who proudly raised nearly all of their own money the hard way: asking and pleading.

Here is what the other candidates donated to their campaigns and their latest reported fundraising totals:

Bill Schneider: gave $3,142 out of $76,222.78

Rick Bennett: gave $2,500 out of $184,303

Debra Plowman gave $160 out of $25,422

Charlie Summers: gave $0 out of $89,915

Scott D’Amboise gave $0 out of $609,831

PIZZA MONEY

Poliquin’s financial disclosure also hints at how he was able to avoid filing a first-round financial disclosure report on April 1. All of the other Republicans did file, but Poliquin said he didn’t spend or raise enough trigger the reporting requirement at the time.

Poliquin said, for example, that he used volunteers to gather his qualifying signatures in early March, paying them only “pizza money.”

His newly filed report shows that he paid Maine College Republicans $1,797.50 to gather his signatures. However, he didn’t pay them until April 2, delaying any requirement to report the expense until now.

A DEMOCRATIC FRONTRUNNER?

There is no consensus about who is winning the Democratic Senate primary.

The four candidates remained collegial – at least in public – throughout the state convention in Augusta this past weekend.

Some delegates believe former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town has a slight edge because he’s the only candidate from northern Maine, while the other three are from the Portland area.

State Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, addressed that issue in her floor speech Saturday, saying, “no Democratic candidate should be judged by her ZIP code.”

Fresh off their big convention speeches, Dunlap, Dill, state Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, and Benjamin Pollard will go toe to toe during a debate on Tuesday, one week before the primary.

The Portland Press Herald, WGME 13 and WGAN radio are sponsoring the debate, which will be broadcast live on WGME 13 and WGAN at 5:15 p.m.

DEMS EMPHASIZE NEW START

There was plenty of energy and enthusiasm at the Maine Democratic Convention this past weekend. But the shadow of the 2010 election was obvious, too.

Party leaders made no effort to gloss over the historic defeat two years ago that gave Republicans control of the governor’s office and Legislature. “We learned the hard way in 2010,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant told the delegates. “Your time and money will be spent smarter this year.”

Two years of being in the minority was just the thing to unify the party, leaders said. Organizers of the convention also made a conscious choice to showcase the party’s new leadership.

While former Gov. John Baldacci made a low-key appearance at the convention Saturday, two young rising stars delivered primetime speeches. Senate Assistant Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, had the delegates waving signs and shouting a new party slogan, “We Have Your Back.”

Maine Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, isn’t exactly a young, new party leader. In fact, Hobbins has hit his limit for service in the Senate and is running for a seat in the Maine House. But, Hobbins said, he wouldn’t be campaigning again if he thought Democrats would still be the minority party next year.

“We learned from our mistakes in the 2010 election and we pledge that never will it happen again,” Hobbins said.

POLLARD IDEALS APPLAUDED

The Democratic State Convention didn’t have the drama of the contentious Republican gathering a few weeks ago. But it wasn’t entirely predictable, either.

U.S. Senate candidate Benjamin Pollard gave an entirely unconventional convention speech.

He talked about the need for “a new public consciousness” and his dreams of world peace. He quoted Ghandi – “being the change I want to see in the world.” He even asked the delegates to hold their applause until the end, though he later admitted that was a bad idea.

“I made a mistake. I should have let you applaud all along because it gives me time to relax,” he said.

Pollard paused a couple of times when he caught himself  “droning on a bit” about foreign affairs or trade policy. “I’m going to try to step up the enthusiasm,” he said, taking a breath and sharing a laugh with the audience. “But you’re all doing great.”

Pollard may not have won the delegates’ votes, but his honesty and idealism got him a standing ovation.

Political Notebook prepared by Staff Writer John Richardson, who can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@mainetoday.com

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