A sustained advertising campaign in the Bangor area that battered Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin for his votes in favor of his party’s tax cut plan and against the Affordable Care Act cut deeply into the two-term lawmaker’s favorability ratings.

The case study on the potential impact of highlighting a swing district congressman’s votes took place over a 10-month period that began in August.

Clarity Campaign Labs, hired by two groups aligned with Democrats, surveyed the Bangor media market before and after a prolonged $620,000 campaign to zing Poliquin for his record on health care and taxes. Its report was first disclosed by The Huffington Post.

At the start of the experiment, the pollsters found that Poliquin got a thumbs-down from 38 percent of voters in the Bangor media market – which makes up about half the voters in the sprawling 2nd District – while 28 percent approved of him.

By the end of the publicity campaign that highlighted his votes on the ACA, also known as Obamacare, and his support for a $1.5 trillion tax cut, Poliquin had 25 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval, according to a May 29 memo by the pollsters.

Overall, that means Poliquin’s favorability dropped by 13 points in the wake of the sustained effort to hammer the Republican incumbent, who was first elected in 2014.

The pollsters concluded that “voters care deeply about these issues and are willing to hold members of Congress who voted for them accountable for those votes.”

The experiment, which Democrats hoped would show the potential for toppling Republicans in swing districts across the country, doesn’t indicate what would happen if the Republican Party was making a similar effort to bolster Poliquin’s standing at the same time or campaign against his opponent.

Furthermore, Bangor-area voters were bombarded with material in opposition to the lawmaker during a period when little was done to counter the advertising.

Three men are vying in Tuesday’s Democratic primary to secure the party’s backing to take on the Republican: Lewiston state Rep. Jared Golden, environmentalist Lucas St. Clair and Islesboro bookstore owner Craig Olson.

Though Poliquin has far more money in his campaign coffers than any of the Democrats, outside money is likely to pour into the district. Two years ago, Poliquin’s re-election campaign was one of the most expensive in America, with money dumped into advertising by both sides at an astounding rate.

Poliquin has strongly defended his votes on the tax and health care bills. He also points to many other issues that he has focused attention on, from helping veterans to bolstering blueberry sales, that are much less likely to prove controversial.

Clarity Campaign Labs was hired by two groups – Not One Penny and Protect Our Care – for the 10-month campaign, targeted at providing voters with a Democratic perspective on the health care and tax cut plan votes.

The groups aired at least eight different ads in the Bangor market – links to each of them are provided in the pollsters’ memo – and included one that contrasted Maine Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ opposition to ACA repeal with Poliquin’s backing for a bill that would have killed the program.

Other ads blasted Poliquin for supporting President Trump’s tax-cut plan. Poliquin defended the vote. Collins also voted for the tax cuts.

In total, Poliquin’s unfavorable margin in the Bangor market rose from minus 10 points last August to minus 20 points in March.

The August and March surveys within the Bangor market were done through live callers relying on a mix of landlines and cellphones to randomly selected voters. The results were weighted to try to capture the voting population of the area.

The Nov. 6 general election in the 2nd District will include Poliquin, the Democratic primary winner, and two independents: Portland lawyer Tiffany Bond and Southwest Harbor educator Will Hoar.

Steve Collins can be contacted at:

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