House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, visited Maine on Thursday to help raise funds for Republican Bruce Poliquin’s campaign for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s 2nd District seat.

But other than a brief stop at Becky’s Diner on Portland’s Commercial Street, Boehner and Maine’s former state treasurer avoided public appearances and requests for media interviews.

The only signs that the men were attending a private fundraiser inside the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland on Thursday evening was the appearance outside the hotel by Rick Bennett, chairman of Maine’s Republican Party, and a protest by state workers disgruntled with Congress’ lack of action over raising the minimum wage. Poliquin’s campaign manager, Matthew Hutson, did not return telephone calls asking for an interview.

“This is a tremendously important race for the Republican Party,” Bennett said during an impromptu news conference. “Once you’ve won this seat, it is very difficult to dislodge the incumbent. It is the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River.”

Democrat Michaud, who is currently a candidate for governor, has held the 2nd District seat since he was sworn into office in January 2003.

The district covers more than 27,000 square miles and comprises nearly 80 percent of the state’s total land area. It includes the cities of Bangor, Lewiston, Auburn and Presque Isle.

Though Portland is located in the 1st District, Poliquin’s campaign said in a previous statement that it was the only location that could accommodate Boehner’s travel schedule.

According to a notice released by Poliquin’s campaign, it cost between $250 and $2,600 to attend the fundraiser. Paying a higher price entitled participants to a photograph with Boehner.

Poliquin, who lists his address as Oakland, is running against Democrat Emily Cain of Orono. Independent Blaine Richardson is also running.

Outside the Holiday Inn by the Bay, a group of 15 protesters, many of them retired state employees, held signs that said “raise the minimum wage” and “we can’t survive on $7.25 an hour,” the federal minimum. The protesters also chanted “profits are up and wages are down.”

Jim Betts, 63, of Winthrop, was among the protesters. A retired adjudicator for the Maine Bureau of Unemployment, Betts said there is no way that a person can support a family on $7.50 an hour – the minimum wage in Maine.

“Speaker Boehner has done nothing to push for a higher minimum wage for working people. That is why we are here tonight,” Betts said. “In the meantime, more and more people are falling into poverty.”

“John Boehner is a symbol of the gridlock in Washington and Bruce Poliquin promises more of the same,” Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said in a statement.

“Mainers know that Bruce Poliquin is a divisive figure who will only add to the gridlock that keeps Maine stuck and today he confirmed it by standing with DC’s top partisan,” Grant said.


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