AUGUSTA, Maine — Bruce Poliquin greeted every person through the door, offering a warm handshake, a broad smile and a lot of questions.
“Where are you from? What do you do for a living? Do you know so-and-so? Why did you come tonight?”
Poliquin, one of seven people vying for the Republican Party’s nomination to run for governor in the June 8 primary, sought to make a personal connection with everyone who attended a recent “Town Hall” campaign stop in Augusta.
One of the attendees was an outfielder for St. Dominic Regional High School in Auburn.
“You’re an outfielder? OK, so you’ve got some legs,” said Poliquin, an avid baseball enthusiast who has coached numerous Maine high school and college baseball and softball teams. “The toughest thing to coach is the outfield. The most difficult thing is what to do when there’s a fly ball directly over the fielder’s head.”
One of the next attendees through the door was a Bath Iron Works employee. “Well, you must know Jeff Geiger,” said Poliquin, referring to BIW’s president. “He’s been a big supporter of mine.”
A woman, having witnessed Poliquin’s conversations with the others, clapped one hand over her name tag as she shook his hand with the other.
“I thought you could read minds,” she said.
“No, I don’t read minds,” said Poliquin, embracing the woman’s hand with both of his. “I read name tags.”
Nearly two hours later, though, after the event’s 14 attendees were gone, their names were still fresh in Poliquin’s mind. Asked how many he could remember, Poliquin named them all. The ability to make a personal connection with voters and to discuss the issue in-depth has proven to be a central campaign strategy for Poliquin. The private businessman from the coastal town of Georgetown has skipped numerous forums attended by the other Republicans in favor of his self-designed Town Halls.
“We have the belief that we need to go directly to the people of Maine,” said Poliquin, who said he doesn’t think tightly-scripted forums and meet-and-greet events are the right way to communicate his ideas. “It’s important that I hear directly from the people what they want. The people are searching for a real choice for the best person to manage our state government.”
Poliquin lists his management skills at the top of his qualifications to be the state’s chief executive. After an academic career at Phillips Academy followed by an economics degree from Harvard University, Poliquin helped build a New York City-based asset management firm called Avatar Investors Associates Corp., which han-dled $5 billion in worker pension funds for Bath Iron Works and International Paper, among others, according to the campaign’s website.
Poliquin left the firm in 1991, two years after the sudden death of his wife, Jane Carpenter. In addition to raising a son, Poliquin has been involved in several small businesses, including an “environmentally sensitive” housing development in Phippsburg, according to campaign literature.
Poliquin, like the other Republicans, is running on a pro-business platform that includes reducing taxes by cutting government spending and streamlining the regulatory environment. Poliquin said he would start his governorship by ordering a sweeping audit of government programs to identify savings through efficiencies and the elimination of unneeded programs. While other candidates claim they already know how to cut spending, Poliquin favors an audit because it’s the tool most used by corporations.
“We can accomplish that very quickly,” said Poliquin after being asked if he’d have time to find wasteful spending and incorporate it in his first biennial budget proposal just a couple months after being elected. “It happens all the time in the corporate world.”
Like other candidates, Poliquin favors reducing eligibility for social service programs to the national average and imposing a lifetime limit on welfare benefits.
“We have no choice,” he said. “That could save us a tremendous amount of money. I think voters of Maine can handle the truth.”
Poliquin also favors purchasing energy from Canada, reducing the cost of health care insurance by opening new markets, but the core of his focus as governor would be instilling a new pro-business attitude across the state.
Poliquin told a reporter during a recent event this campaign was “pulling away from most of the pack,” but that’s not how some academics see it. Douglas Hodgkin, professor emeritus of political science at Bates College, said he’s seen no evidence that Poliquin’s campaign has any traction.
“I think all he has going for him is his resume and his deep pockets to be able to purchase television advertising,” said Hodgkin. “There just does not seem to be the grass-roots citizen kind of support, but he’s able to hire enough staff to put out signs. I would guess that Poliquin doesn’t have much except for some name recogni-tion.”
Hodgkin said some recent “negative press” has hurt Poliquin, even though Poliquin called for the attention by attacking fellow Republican candidate Les Otten. When Otten fired a campaign staffer for plagiarizing material from a conservative think tank, Poliquin issued two press releases denouncing Otten’s character. And last week, Poliquin began airing a television advertisement that targets Otten for what the ad characterized as “dishonesty with the voters” regarding his business accomplishments. Otten has called Poliquin’s attacks “lies and exaggerations.”
Poliquin has maintained that his attacks on Otten were about “making sure Maine voters know the truth.”
At the Republican State Convention May 8, Poliquin’s campaign speech and rally stood out from the other six candidates because of its minimalism. While other candidates used signs, color-coded T-shirts and parades of supporters during their speeches, Poliquin took the stage alone and presented his speech without balloons or streamers. He said his minimalist presentation was indicative of how he’d run state government, but not about how much support or lack of it his campaign is experiencing.
“We’re very genuine and very honest with our approach,” he said. “There’s no fanfare. We spent a fraction of what the other candidates did at the convention … but we think it was very effective.”
Asked whether his strategy is working, Poliquin said a spike in website hits and more people attending his Town Hall events in the past few weeks tell him it is.
“I’m confident that when the curtain closes behind everyone on June 8 … they will hire the person who is best qualified to manage state government,” said Poliquin. “We’re very pleased with our position.”
Name: Bruce Poliquin
Age: 56. Born Nov. 1, 1953
Education: Graduated from Harvard with a bachelor of arts with a concentration in economics.
Career: Since 2006, Poliquin has been the principal of Dirigo Holdings LLC, which oversees two housing projects in Phippsburg. From 1996 to 2003, he was a private investor in small businesses in Maine. From 1981 until 1986, he worked as a managing partner with New York-based Avatar Investors Associates Corp.
Family: Poliquin and his first wife, who was killed in a boating accident in 1991, had a son who is now 19. They live in Georgetown.
Quote: “My vision is to build a new positive attitude toward business development and jobs, while preserving our special quality of life.”