A good chunk of one recent Friday was spent pressing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for a floor vote on legislation aimed at curbing unfair Chinese trade practices — and getting his way. A few days later, there were appearances at a parade in Old Town and a fair in Unity. And in between, there were staff and constituents to meet with, press releases to issue, agendas to push.
No doubt about it: U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s re-election campaign and other duties keep him running.
But then again — unlike many of his past re-election bids — so does his opponent.
In Republican Jason Levesque, a telemarketing entrepreneur from Auburn, polls suggest the Democratic congressman from East Millinocket has his first significant challenge in at least four years. Michaud recognizes the challenge, he says, even if he also downplays the poll that showed that among a sampling of 2nd Congressional District voters, Michaud led Levesque 45 percent to 38 percent — a vast underperformance, the pollster claimed.
A poll released Wednesday also showed Michaud holding a double-digit lead over Levesque.
“People tend to focus too much on polls,” Michaud said during a recent telephone interview from Washington, D.C. Polls “sway back and forth much too quickly. When you look at [polling data] taken since the August break, Democratic candidates are actually ahead of Republicans, where that wasn’t the case before. Nov. 2 is the only poll I have to rely on.
“We take Jason as seriously as professor [John] Frary in the last race,” Michaud added. “We take every race seriously, and we will be focusing on the campaign full time.”
And according to L. Sandy Maisel, the director of the Goldfarb Center at Colby College, both Michaud and fellow Democrat Chellie Pingree in Maine’s 1st District likely will win by smaller margins than they have in the past, but nonetheless will be re-elected.
“They are both popular incumbents,” Maisel said.
Michaud’s campaign manager, Greg Olson, said that the campaign is focusing on Michaud’s record — and except for a few swipes at Levesque, the campaign has kept its focus.
Levesque started a website, michaudmocksmainejobs.com, in mid-September in response to Michaud’s statement in an Aug. 20 fundraising letter that Levesque’s time “in the telemarketing industry has convinced him that you can replace middle-class jobs making products with jobs making calls.”
The economy, not Levesque, is Michaud’s primary worry as Election Day approaches, Michaud said, as well as the argument that the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which Michaud voted for, was a flop. Not so, said Michaud.
“The economy hasn’t rebounded as fast as everyone would like to see it, but if you look at the private sector, like manufacturing, it actually has increased,” Michaud said. “It is not going to turn over overnight, but you have to remember that the [Obama] administration came into office with a huge budgetary deficit, dealt with two wars, a huge financial crisis and had to implement the Bush bailout of the banks.
“It will take more time to continue moving forward, but at least it’s moving in the right direction,” he added.
Not that Michaud is an unalloyed fan of the stimulus bill. He is sharply critical of the administration having earmarked but not yet delivered as much as $275 billion in stimulus funding.
He said the federal government erred in allocating only 7 percent of the package for infrastructure improvements that average about 35,000 new jobs for every $1 billion spent — by far the biggest bang for the buck available.
And in his campaign, Michaud has highlighted several efforts and accomplishments that have boosted or will aid the state’s economy, including:
ä Helping establish a regional trade commission that will draw $30 million in federal economic development funds annually to Maine.
ä As chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, successfully pushing for four new medical access points for veterans either completed or being planned in Bangor, Houlton, Lewiston and Lincoln. Construction of Bangor’s new facility started last spring; Lewiston’s will begin next year. World War II veterans are temporarily being treated in Auburn; Lincoln’s clinic opened in 2007.
ä Supporting federal laws that allow trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds on Interstate 95 north of Augusta, which he says will promote local road safety and make the state’s trucking and manufacturing industries more competitive.
ä Testifying in the House for tariffs on Chinese and Indonesian paper imports that will greatly aid the state’s forest products industry, particularly the competitiveness of mills in Rumford, Skowhegan and Westbrook.
Michaud has made mention of two bills. The Small Business Jobs and Credit Act delivers loans to small businesses to create jobs through a new $30 billion lending fund for small and medium-size community banks that could leverage up to $300 billion in lending. The bill passed the House on Sept. 23 and the Senate on Sept. 16.
The Small Business Jobs Tax Relief Act would spur investment in small businesses by increasing capital gains tax cuts for investors in small businesses this year and increasing to $20,000 from $5,000 the deduction for startup business, Michaud said. It is under Senate review.
BDN writer Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.