OAKLAND — A national Republican tide and an unpopular proposal to restrict bear-hunting may have energized Republicans in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where Bruce Poliquin won a historic election on Tuesday.

Poliquin will join an expanded majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, moving the 2nd District to the Republican column for the first time since 1995. Nationally, Republicans gained at least 14 House seats, also wresting a majority in the U.S. Senate from Democrats.

With 96 percent of the district’s precincts reporting by Wednesday night, Poliquin had 47 percent of the votes to Democrat Emily Cain’s 42 percent in the race for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Maine governor.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Poliquin, a 60-year-old former state treasurer who lives in Oakland, said his party’s time came because voters want “folks that are different, folks with business experience.”

“That’s what I bring down there,” he said at the Oakland House of Pizza.

He took a moderate tack in his remarks, repeating a line he used campaign-long, that he will “work with anybody,” including Democrats and independents, who wants to fix problems.


“I’m not going down there to go to cocktail parties or hang out with special interests,” Poliquin said. “I’m going down there to fight for the interests of people in Maine, and I will do that with every breath in my body.”

Republicans’ performance and the bear hunting referendum were among a confluence of factors – national and local – that likely produced the victory for Poliquin and the re-election of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, observers said.

Ronald Schmidt, a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine, said the composition of this year’s electorate was likely skewed more to the political right than it would have been in a presidential election year, making conservative arguments more persuasive.

“I think there were positive incentives and negative incentives that drove Republican voters to the polls, and in Maine, I think the bear-baiting referendum was one of them,” Schmidt said.

On Tuesday, 53 percent of Maine voters rejected that proposal, which would have banned baiting, hounding and trapping of bears. That margin was around 60 percent in Maine’s 2nd District, which covers 80 percent of Maine geographically and where most of the bear hunting is done.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which led the campaign opposing Question 1, said he “can’t see any way it didn’t affect the races” in the 2nd District, where many conservative but infrequent voters likely turned out to fend off a perceived attack on their hunting rights and rural lifestyle.


“For them, it was personal,” Trahan said. “They needed to get out to vote or potentially lose their business or their homes.”

All candidates for the 2nd District seat opposed the proposal. Poliquin and LePage were endorsed by the National Rifle Association, which opposes expanding background checks on gun purchases. Michaud and Cain, a 34-year-old state senator from Orono, support expanded background checks.

Poliquin won in all but two 2nd District counties. He won in the three counties – Piscataquis, Franklin and Somerset – that opposed the bear hunting restrictions by the widest margins.

Michaud won all of those counties in 2012, but Cain didn’t get above 37 percent in Piscataquis and Somerset. She lost narrowly in Franklin County, where Michaud won two years ago with 58 percent of votes. She won in Hancock and Waldo counties.

LePage won every county in Michaud’s district except for Hancock.

At the polls in Newport on Tuesday, Dan Stevens, 59, an independent who runs the town’s sanitary district and voted “no” in the bear hunting referendum, voted for LePage and said he made a last-minute choice to vote for Poliquin solely because of his NRA backing.


Poliquin’s victory was made all the more impressive by independent conservative Blaine Richardson’s 11 percent showing in the race. Richardson was seen as a potential spoiler, tipping the race in Cain’s favor, and even Poliquin acknowledged that possibility on Election Day by saying a vote for Richardson was a vote for Cain.

Altogether, with votes for Poliquin and Richardson, 58 percent of 2nd District voters chose candidates on the political right.

That electorate may have also been swayed by the divide between Cain and Poliquin on abortion rights. The Democrat was endorsed by pro-abortion rights EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, while Poliquin was boosted by the anti-abortion Christian Civic League.

Carroll Conley, the league’s executive director, said his group’s effort could have helped Poliquin and LePage, who is also anti-abortion. He said the league contacted to 54,000 households made up of reliable voters sympathetic to a Christian conservative message.

In the June primary between Poliquin and mostly pro-abortion rights Republican Kevin Raye, Conley said his group’s efforts pushed turnout up in that primary by 15 percent, and he expects it helped this time, saying there was “no question” that there was “a clear choice on the life issue.”

During his remarks Wednesday, Poliquin said his message resonated with 2nd District voters: helping Maine’s businesses, veterans and seniors, and reducing debt, spending and taxes.

“They said, ‘We cannot keep going down the path we are going down,’ ” he said.

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