Until the last few weeks, the 2nd Congressional District race was an unexpectedly sleepy affair, largely subsumed by our boisterous and unsubstantive gubernatorial contest.

That quietude was surprising, not simply because the contest between Democrat Emily Cain and Republican Bruce Poliquin for the seat vacated by Rep. Mike Michaud was and remains extraordinarily competitive, but also because the 2nd District seat is frequently a path to higher statewide office.

As the tempo picks up, however, 2nd District voters are getting a piercing introduction to the rhetoric, misdirection and money that now necessarily follow a nationally targeted congressional contest.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the $1.5 million attack ad the National Republican Congressional Committee is currently running against state Sen. Emily Cain.

The piece employs images of armed, black-clad terrorists marching in formation to make the absurd claim that Cain supports greater dependence on “Middle East oil” and opposes U.S. energy independence.

Let’s ponder that for a moment. What politician – of any party or ideology – supports greater dependence on foreign oil? Who campaigns against U.S. energy independence? No one. It’s the political equivalent of opposing motherhood and apple pie and a one-way ticket to electoral Siberia. On its face, the claim is preposterous.

Advertisement

Even so, the ad is a cunning exercise in misdirection.

It purports to be about energy, but it actually exploits voter anxiety over emerging foreign policy threats and Maine’s stubbornly sluggish economic recovery. It conflates Cain’s support of renewable energy sources with opposition to domestically sourced oil and natural gas. But, unsurprisingly and likely deliberately, it doesn’t even get that right.

In the last legislative session, Cain voted in favor of Maine’s omnibus energy bill. The popular bipartisan legislation, passed over the governor’s veto, authorizes the Maine Public Utilities Commission to spend up to $75 million a year to secure 200 million cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas to lower electricity costs for Maine ratepayers and facilitate construction of new regional gas pipelines.

What’s more, the renewable energy sources Cain supports – like land-based and offshore wind, solar, biomass and energy efficiency – all make us less dependent on foreign energy sources, not more.

So, yes, the ad is grossly misleading, but there’s actually something more unsettling about it. The inference is that Cain’s policies somehow embolden “a dangerous world threatening America.” Put another way, the ad intimates a link between Cain and terrorism, but cunningly leaves it to viewers to make the implicit association.

As a former political operative, I appreciate the subtle, vicious artistry of creating that linkage. But as a voter, I recognize it as some of the more vile and contemptible political advertising on display this cycle.

Advertisement

The NRCC’s ad is classic example of D.C.-inspired right-wing fear mongering and subterfuge. And it stands in sharp contrast to Cain’s political record of common sense, compromise and bipartisanship.

In endorsing Cain last week, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King said, “We need people who will listen, who will talk, who will collaborate, who will stay at the table and who will solve problems. That’s what Emily has had a record of doing for the past 10 years in the state Legislature.”

Poliquin, on the other hand, before rhetorically moderating to appeal to less ideologically extreme general election voters, actively campaigned on his unwillingness to compromise and his absolute willingness to hew to ideology over pragmatic problem solving.

And while he now bristles at the label, Poliquin unquestionably embraces a pugnacious tea party-inspired ideology that champions deeper partisanship, greater gridlock and more legislative hostage-taking.

He’s the very sort of political dead-ender who last year brought us the government shutdown and a near-catastrophic default on the federal debt.

Yet, before the race is over, Poliquin and his allies will almost certainly try to paint Cain as some sort of fiscally imprudent, Nancy Pelosi-inspired tax-and-spender. Let me spare them the expense.

Advertisement

In her legislative career, Cain has worked on 24 bipartisan, balanced budgets.

Collectively, those budgets cut $4 billion in state spending. That includes the hard-fought 2011 biennial budget, which cut expenditures by almost $800 million. Hardly the record of a big-government, spendthrift liberal.

Instead, Cain shows a remarkable willingness, and an equally extraordinary ability, to stay at the table, negotiate and hammer out principled, bipartisan budget comprises.

She even manages – against all odds – to maintain a functional relationship with Gov. LePage.

So in the final weeks before Election Day, as the candidates and their allies ramp up the spending and rhetoric, let’s hope the NRCC has already set the floor on sleaze.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Boston and Portland offices of VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @CuzziMJ


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.