Three Republicans who hope to win a congressional seat this year are pushing for Gov. Janet Mills to reopen Maine quickly, despite public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Adrienne Bennett, left, Eric Brakey and Dale Crafts. File photos

Dale Crafts of Lisbon said Friday he’s joining with other small business owners to sue the state while Adrienne Bennett of Bangor and Eric Brakey of Auburn have taken to social media to oppose the governor’s shutdown edicts.

Though they claim the governor’s policies are unpopular, a recent survey by researchers at Northeastern, Harvard and Rutgers universities found Mainers overwhelmingly support the policies adopted by Mills.

More than 90% of the Mainers surveyed by the COVID-19 Consortium said they endorsed stay-at-home policies and 88% backed plans to keep most businesses closed to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Mills relaxed the rules slightly this week, but her plan envisions restrictions on some businesses for months to come.

Mills touched on the growing political split in remarks Friday.

“Some are engaging in partisan political chatter over this pandemic,” the governor said, “but we know this virus plays no favorites: it doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a Green or an Independent, unregistered or unenrolled. It does not take political sides; it is an equal opportunity destroyer.”

Mills said that “with every order I have issued and every action I have taken, I have thought long and hard about how Maine people — and Maine businesses — will be impacted. These are some of the most difficult decisions any governor has ever had to make, in consultation with the people and the businesses affected but always with the public health as our first priority.”

Bennett, though, said Mills’ plan for reopening the state is “misguided, harmful and doomed for failure.”

Both Bennett and Brakey issued statements backing a call for defiance from Rick Savage, owner of Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel, who told Tucker Carlson on television Thursday that he plans to offer dining options specifically barred by the governor.

“I stand with Rick,” Bennett proclaimed on social media.

Brakey, a former state senator, declared on Twitter that Savage “just showed all of America what Maine people are made of. #LikeABoss.”

The three congressional contenders are vying in a July 14 primary for the right to challenge U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a first-term Democrat from Lewiston who ousted Republican Bruce Poliquin in 2018 in a closely fought race.

Crafts, a former legislator, wrote in a letter to Mills that he hopes she will “immediately reconsider your position, sit down with the Maine small business community and reopen Maine now.”

“This is not a partisan issue,” he insisted, and “extends past the business community.”

“I have heard from dozens of Maine citizens, including home-school groups that fear they will not be able to acquire their material for next year at the annual home-schooling curriculum event, from pastors that fear their religious rights have been taken, to parents who worry about providing for their family if their employer remains closed, and mother of five and grandmother of 16, who will be joining to help reopen Maine to provide a future for her family here in our great state,” Crafts said.

He said the goal isn’t to sue the state but to help it reopen.

Bennett, who served as Gov. Paul LePage’s press secretary, said Mills’ administration “woefully misunderstands the impacts of their policies on Maine business.”

She said that many businesses, not just those involved with tourism, won’t be able to reopen under the rules the governor imposed.

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