When Donald Trump comes to Maine on Thursday, some big-name Maine Republicans won’t be there.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins isn’t going. She’ll be visiting her stepdaughter in Idaho.
It appears U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin won’t be there either. Poliquin declined Tuesday to say whether he was going.
However, no answer means a no-show “unless Poliquin plans to be a surprise guest” at Trump’s rally, said Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington.
Gov. Paul LePage says he’ll be at the event, scheduled for at 2 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.
LePage told CBS 13 he supports Trump now more than ever before, for several reasons.
“The man is a businessman, I’m a businessman and I know what a businessman can bring to government and he can do a lot in dealing with the $20 trillion debt that we have,” LePage said.
The governor also said he believes Trump will keep Americans safe.
Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, won’t be going to hear the Republican presidential nominee speak.
“I’m busy going door to door talking to constituents, focusing on my own campaign,” Brakey said Tuesday.
The recent controversy between Trump and the parents of a U.S. Muslim soldier who died in the Iraq war hasn’t helped the presidential candidate with some members of Maine’s Republican Party.
“Sen. Collins has not endorsed Donald Trump, and remains deeply troubled by his disparaging comments about so many people, including a reporter with disabilities and an American judge of Mexican heritage,” said Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark.
“Most disturbing are his latest, inconceivable statements criticizing the grieving parents of an Army captain who was killed in action in Iraq,” Clark said.
Poliquin is running for re-election in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Lewiston, Bangor and western Maine. His campaign refused Tuesday to release his campaign schedule, which is unusual. The campaign released a statement that hinted Poliquin will back Trump, though he does not name Trump.
Poliquin said it’s critical that the next president create jobs and not favor trade deals that “appear to favor foreign countries over our own workers.” That has been a major issue for Trump.
Poliquin’s non-answers “are indicative of the conundrum Poliquin finds himself in,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine in Orono.
“He won his office in a tight race in 2014,” Brewer said. “There are plenty of Maine Republicans who voted for Bruce two years ago who enthusiastically support Donald Trump, but there are others who would be disgusted if Poliquin endorsed Trump.”
Brewer added, “The fact he won’t say tells you all you need to know.”
There will come a point when Poliquin will no longer be able to straddle the issue, Brewer said. It could be on the debate stage, when Democratic challenger Emily Cain asks him: “‘Yes or no, do you support Donald Trump?’ That will be a tough one to dodge.”
In Maine and nationally, a growing number of Republicans don’t want to be associated with Trump, Melcher said.
CNN on Tuesday reported that longtime New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie aide Maria Cornella said she’s voting for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. And Sally Bradshaw, a longtime Florida Gov. Jeb Bush adviser, has left the Republican Party, telling CNN that Republicans have nominated “a total narcissist” and “a bigot.”
Trump has talked in ways that Republicans don’t talk, and he is making many uncomfortable, Melcher said.
“Poliquin has tried to represent himself as independent-thinking, that he’s not in lockstep with what his party wants to do,” Melcher said. “He’s careful with trade. He’s been smart in knowing when he’s going to need to break away from the party.”
Poliquin is watching his district, Melcher said.
“It’s hard for him, waiting and seeing how Trump will act,” he said.
If Poliquin supports Trump now, and Trump does something Poliquin and his supporters can’t tolerate, “then he’ll look like a flip-flopper” if he pulls his support, Melcher said.
It’s a challenging time to be a Republican candidate in Maine, Melcher said. With a controversial governor and presidential candidate, “you have to step a little more carefully running for office,” he said.
CBS 13 contributed to this report.