BANGOR, Maine — Cementing his place in Maine’s political upper echelon, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin won his first re-election in the 2nd Congressional District on Tuesday over Democrat Emily Cain in a nationally targeted rematch that attracted a record level of spending.
He won on the back of a disciplined — and often evasive — campaign in which he focused on a handful of bipartisan actions in his first term and awkwardly dodged questions on thorny issues, including whether he supported Donald Trump, his party’s presidential nominee.
Their race attracted nearly $16 million in campaign and outside spending — more than doubling the 2014 total, which was already a record in a U.S. House race in Maine. It funded a daily average of more than 333 daily TV ads in Maine between mid-September and mid-October — more than any other race.
Poliquin declared victory just after midnight Wednesday without a concession from Cain, telling supporters at Dysart’s on Broadway in Bangor that the torrent of ads against him “didn’t work” and there’s “absolutely no way that the state of Maine can be bought.”
“We need to continue our work to strengthen our economy and create new jobs so our young people can stay in Maine,” he said.
Cain conceded in a statement just after 2 a.m., saying she spoke with Poliquin and was “deeply proud” of her campaign.
“I will continue to follow my passion for opening doors of opportunity to Maine families, neighbors, friends, and children,” she said.
Poliquin’s career in Maine politics began rather inauspiciously, with a sixth-place finish in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. But he hit the trail for the winner, Paul LePage, who was elected alongside a Republican Legislature. Poliquin was picked as treasurer.
He called himself an “activist” in the office, elevating it to a high public profile, often giving talks across the state to throw his weight behind his party’s fiscal reforms, including reductions in the pension system for state employees aimed at the fund’s unfunded liability.
In 2012, Poliquin ran another unsuccessful primary for a U.S. Senate seat, failing to beat Charlie Summers by running at him from the right. But he looked for another office, honing in on the 2nd District in 2013 after Democrat Mike Michaud announced plans to run for governor.
When he ran, Poliquin changed his residence from a $3.4 million mansion in Georgetown in Maine’s 1st Congressional District to a modest family home in Oakland and beat two-time 2nd District nominee Kevin Raye, a moderate who worked for centrist U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, in a 2014 primary.
Some thought that made it harder to win the seat, but Poliquin savaged Cain, who spent 10 years in the Maine Legislature, as a “career politician” with a thin resume in private life.
That reputation stuck, and he promised reporters the day after Election Day 2014 that he would “work with anyone” in Congress, trying to assuage fears that he’d be an ideologue after past support from hard-right groups. Some weren’t sure. But for the most part, he hasn’t been.
He picked up much of Michaud’s work on labor issues, breaking with many in his party to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership after past trade deals were blamed for the erosion of Maine’s manufacturing base. He championed New Balance, which employs 900 in his district, in its fight to enforce a law requiring clothing and shoes worn by military members to be made in the U.S.
On the other hand, he has been different than Michaud on pocketbook issues, voting for a Republican budget in 2015 that would have turned Medicare into a voucher program for people younger than 56 and taking a seat on the House Financial Services Committee, which regulates — and gets a lot of campaign money from — the financial sector that it regulates.
Cain announced her campaign’s redux last year after urging from national Democrats sensing a different electorate in a presidential year. She sought to sharpen her attacks on Poliquin, feeling that she was defined too easily by him last time.
But while many saw a better campaign from Cain this time, the attacks lobbed between the two were virtually the same. Poliquin and his allies again hit Cain as an “extreme liberal,” citing her past support of a carbon tax.
Cain punched back, tying his voting record to “Wall Street,” challenging his evasion on Trump and other topics and dusting off an old attack on Poliquin dating to 2012 at his 12-acre Georgetown property, 10 of which were once in a tax-break program intended for commercial forests. But Poliquin’s property had a deed restriction that largely prohibited timber harvesting.
Steve Curtis of Belfast, a Cain voter, said at the polls that “the ads didn’t affect me” but “they did wear me down.”
But Linda Arsen, 50, of Turner, a registered Democrat, illustrated part of her party’s problem in rural Maine. She “went Republican all across the board” this year, voting for Poliquin in the congressional race.
“I’m fed up with the Democrats thinking this should be a free ride for the lazy and the entitled,” she said.
BDN writers Beth Brogan, Nok-Noi Ricker and Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.