PORTLAND, Maine — Money flowed into Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race Thursday as U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, brought his fundraising show to Portland, prompting a top Democratic Party political action committee to pour cash into a statewide ad campaign.
Boehner appeared Thursday evening at a fundraiser for former state treasurer Bruce Poliquin, the GOP’s candidate for northern Maine’s sprawling House district. The speaker’s presence in Maine highlights the competitive nature of the race as Boehner seeks to maintain or grow GOP majority control in the lower branch of Congress.
Portland is not part of the 2nd District, but Poliquin’s campaign said it was the only feasible location for the event, given Boehner’s travel schedule.
Boehner made no public appearance during his stop in Portland, and the fundraiser, held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, was off-limits to those not invited or did not pay to attend. His staff did not respond to an interview request from the Bangor Daily News.
The stop in Maine had one purpose: Raise money for Poliquin’s race against Democratic state Sen. Emily Cain of Orono. Both candidates have garnered national attention as groups on both ends of the political spectrum attempt to tip the scales in a contest where both sides have a shot at an open seat being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who’s running for governor. Independent candidate Blaine Richardson also is running.
Democrats have represented the district for two decades. The last Republican to represent the district was Olympia Snowe, who gave up the seat to run successfully for the U.S. Senate in 1994.
Boehner spent much of the summer traveling the country stumping and fundraising for GOP candidates. His Portland fundraiser began with a VIP reception, where admission cost $2,600. Smaller donations of $250 or $1,000 were accepted for a second, larger reception.
But the speaker’s rainmaking power cut both ways.
Boehner’s appearance in Maine prompted the House Majority PAC, a super PAC that supports Democratic candidates, to drop more than $267,000 on anti-Poliquin attack ads that will air statewide from Friday through Oct. 6.
“This is obviously [a House district] that we’d like to hang on to,” said House Majority PAC spokesman Matt Thornton. “It’s certainly a competitive race we’ve been monitoring closely. Now that Speaker Boehner and the National Republican Congressional Committee have taken it on themselves to draw attention to this race, we thought it was important to let people know Poliquin’s background.”
The ad, titled “ Up Here,” centers on Poliquin’s background on Wall Street and alludes to his support for a budget that would turn Medicare into a block grant program, allowing seniors to choose among private plans or the traditional state-run insurance program.
The ad states the plan would “end the Medicare guarantee” of total health coverage for seniors and cost the elderly thousands of dollars.
In a written statement, the Poliquin campaign refuted the ad’s claims.
“Bruce’s dad is a retired teacher and his mom is a retired nurse, who relies on Social Security and who used Medicare,” said Matt Hutson, Poliquin’s campaign manager. “Bruce absolutely will fight to protect Social Security and Medicare.”
While Boehner and Poliquin entertained donors inside the hotel, a small group of union-affiliated protesters picketed in front of the building, demanding Boehner allow a bill aimed at raising the minimum wage be debated on the floor at Congress.
Raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour has been a priority for President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies. Cain supports increasing the minimum wage. Poliquin and Boehner do not.
“To have the Republican Congress ignore minimum wage is unconscionable,” said Jane Gilbert, a retired member of the Maine State Employees Association.
The union, citing figures from the Center for American Progress, says raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would increase pay for 121,000 workers in Maine.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.