LEWISTON — A Democratic mayoral candidate who was subjected to a racially charged attack is now having his faith called into question – a religious-based assault that has created a rift in the Republican Party.

Using material from a Republican Party-funded blog, a state representative called Ben Chin of Lewiston an “anti-Christian bigot” in a Facebook post, adding more fuel to an already contentious campaign.

“Chin hates America, hates Americans, and hates Christians, and he wants to allow noncitizens to vote,” Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, wrote.

Lance Dutson, a former CEO of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center who helped to create the Republican group Get Right Maine to combat extremism, described the latest attack to the Sun Journal as “one of the lowest and stupidest things ever done in Maine politics.”

Chin, who faces Mayor Bob Macdonald in a runoff election next month, serves as an occasional lay Episcopal preacher and reads sermons at Trinity Church in Lewiston.

Even before the “anti-Christian” attack, the campaign for mayor in Maine’s second-largest city already had become heated when Lewiston building owner Joe Dunne put up signs that said “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin,” a reference to Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. That spurred accusations of racism being directed at Chin, whose grandfather emigrated from China.

Dutson and Bobby Reynolds, who are both former aides to Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, launched Get Right Maine “to refocus Maine’s Republican Party on the core traditions of relevance, reason and respect.”

Dutson’s message, which was emailed to Republicans statewide, criticized state party Chairman Rick Bennett for failing to set an example. “Attacking someone’s religious beliefs is not a Republican value. Being dishonest is not a Republican value,” Dutson wrote.

But Bennett defended the blog page, saying some of Chin’s views were “extreme” and that readers should reach their own conclusions after reading it. He also said he can’t be held responsible for every action by Republican members.

“It’s not my role as the chairman of the party to comment on and pass judgment on every asinine statement that a Republican in Maine may make and, frankly, it’s not my role to hyperventilate about every outrageous thing a Democrat may say, either,” Bennett said.

The Rev. Steven Lane, the Episcopal bishop of Maine, didn’t have such reservations about weighing in.

“Spirited public discourse is an important part of our civic life,” Lane said. “Personal attacks on the character, ethnic origin or religious beliefs are not. I call on all public officials and those seeking elected office, regardless of party or affiliation, to act in a way that reflects respect for every human being.”

Chin told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that he wears the conservative attacks as a “badge of honor.”

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