The Maine Republican Party has waded into Lewiston’s mayoral race, a historically nonpartisan affair, by attacking Democrat Ben Chin over work he did five years ago on behalf of the liberal advocacy group Maine People’s Alliance.

The party created a Facebook page and Tumblr site this month titled “The Real Ben Chin.” Its first post, updated late Monday, criticized Chin for his efforts in 2010 to let legal noncitizens vote in local elections.

“Ben Chin wants to let people who are not U.S. Citizens vote in local elections,” the online post read. “That’s right. Ben Chin is such an extreme liberal the Associated Press reported he started his efforts in Portland where he worked to let non-citizens vote in local elections.”

The pages show a photo of Chin superimposed over a background photo depicting what appears to be a burning city.

Chin is one of four candidates challenging incumbent Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald, a Republican and close ally of Gov. Paul LePage. Chin has raised a record amount of money and built a strong campaign, say those who are following the race closely.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said Tuesday the party decided to get involved in the race because it believes that Chin has been “hiding the truth about who he is.”

The Lewiston mayor’s race has generated significant interest, in part because it’s an off-year election but also because Macdonald has been polarizing – particularly his comments about welfare. Last month he proposed an online registry of all welfare recipients, and he has complained that immigrants, particularly asylum seekers, are overloading Lewiston’s public assistance programs.

The Maine Republican Party sought to contrast Macdonald with Chin, an advocate for fair treatment of immigrants who has supported proposals allowing noncitizens to vote, and whose employer often supports Democratic Party initiatives.

“Chin’s position was nothing more than an attempt to dilute the meaning of what it is to be a United States Citizen,” the party’s post said. “Generations of Americans fought and died for our freedoms. Our founding fathers and citizen soldiers fought for the right to establish the United States of America. Citizenship in this nation should be cherished.”

Chin’s campaign declined to weigh in on the Facebook/Tumblr page and said the candidate is focused on the issues.

“Ben Chin is running one of the most positive campaigns Lewiston has ever seen, and he has a real plan to move Lewiston forward on jobs, development and housing,” said Chin’s campaign manager, Gen Lysen, who is also a Maine People’s Alliance employee.

One longtime Maine Republican strategist, Lance Dutson, sharply criticized the party for what he called the “clumsy, race-baiting imagery” on the Tumblr and Facebook pages.

“I think the people of Maine and Lewiston agree with the (Republican) party on a lot of issues, including whether or not noncitizens should vote. That’s why it’s tragic to see such an overshoot like this,” Dutson said.

“It’s fear-based politics,” he added. “This image of a burning city, suggesting that immigrants are going to burn a city down? That’s a place we haven’t gone to in Maine politics.”

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