AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s involvement in a fundraiser next month with a prominent national gun control advocate is triggering questions from Republicans about where the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who in the past has received support from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the National Rifle Association, stands on gun rights.
The Michaud campaign insists that the congressman’s views on gun control haven’t changed, but Maine Republicans seized on the news that former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, is coming to Maine next month to stump for Michaud as an indication that his support for gun rights has wavered. The issue is significant because linking Michaud to gun control advocates could erode his support among hunters, sportsmen and other gun-rights adherents who have typically supported him in past elections.
His Republican opponent, incumbent Gov. Paul LePage, couldn’t be more opposed to gun control. LePage once famously tweeted a photograph of himself holding his concealed weapon permit, and in February 2013, he told a rally outside the State House that “while I’m your governor, they will not infringe on our rights. The Second Amendment and our state constitution is very clear, and free people — law-abiding citizens — should have the ability to carry guns. That’s what keeps us free and safe.”
According to Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen and LePage campaign spokesman Alexander Willette, LePage also supports constitutional carry — meaning he supports the right to carry a firearm without a concealed weapon permit, which is required in Maine and numerous other states.
Giffords, who during her time in Congress allied with Michaud as part of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats caucus, suffered serious gunshot wounds in a 2011 assassination attempt outside a mall near Tucson, Arizona. She and her husband, Mark Kelly, founded a gun control group called Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Giffords and Kelly insist that they are supporters of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the right to bear arms — but want “common-sense protections from gun violence,” according to the group’s website.
David Trahan, executive director of the influential Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, expressed skepticism.
“I’ve heard that line from every pro-gun control group out there; it’s pretty much always the same line,” said Trahan, a former Republican legislator. “My perception of the response [to learning that Giffords will appear at a fundraiser for Michaud] is that a lot of people were very surprised. There are a lot of people pushing gun control across the country, but [Giffords] has sort of been the face of it.”
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has endorsed Michaud in past congressional campaigns, and Michaud has received high marks from the National Rifle Association, which endorsed him in 2012.
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is awaiting responses from Michaud and several other candidates to a survey that will form part of the basis for the group’s endorsements, according to Trahan. He said sometimes the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine doesn’t publicly endorse anyone — as was the case in the 2010 gubernatorial election — if candidates’ views are too similar, but “we let our members know where people stand.”
“I served [in the Legislature] with Congressman Michaud, and I’ve always respected him, but if his positions have changed, we need to know it, and the public needs to know it,” said Trahan, who added that Michaud is a lifetime member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
Michaud campaign spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said Giffords is coming to Maine for Michaud because of their long professional relationship and not necessarily because of his position on gun control. Reinholt said Michaud hasn’t swayed on gun control issues and his support of Second Amendment rights, though he does support some “protections.”
In 2013, for instance, she said Michaud favored the Manchin-Toomey proposal in Congress that would have required background checks for all commercial sales of guns. The proposal died in the U.S. Senate.
Reinholt said the notion that Giffords is an anti-gun advocate is a “misconception.”
“She, like Mike, understands that balance that needs to be struck,” said Reinholt. “She knows the type of leader that Mike is, and she’s seen how he works behind the scenes. That’s one of the reasons she’s coming to Maine. … We want common-sense protections.”
Asked if Michaud owns a gun, Reinholt said he used to when he owned a sporting camp but no longer does. He does not hold a concealed-carry permit.
Mark Prentice, a spokesman for Giffords and Kelly, said in a written statement to the Bangor Daily News that Michaud’s values are in line with theirs.
“Among many issues important to Gabby and Mark, Mike Michaud is a supporter of common sense policies like background checks that protect Mainers’ Second Amendment rights while helping keep guns out of criminals’ hands,” said Prentice.
A spokeswoman for the NRA did not immediately respond to questions from the BDN.
Sorensen on Monday repeated the GOP’s campaign theme that Michaud has changed his positions on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage to make himself more appealing to southern Maine’s more liberal voters.
“In our view, it highlights Michaud’s pattern of flipping to the left on issue after issue,” said Sorensen. “It raises the question of how far left is he going to go? He’s billing himself as the pro-gun rights candidate, but this raises serious questions about who is Mike Michaud?”
Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler said he respects the right to bear arms in general but favors limiting access to firearms “by people who simply shouldn’t own guns, like convicted criminals and people suffering from mental illness who a danger to themselves or others.”
Cutler said he supports universal background checks, especially for nonresidents who purchase guns in Maine, and as governor would work to create a “one-call system” that ensures Maine gun owners and purchasers have easy access to the background check system.
An emailed invitation to the Giffords fundraiser, obtained by the Bangor Daily News, makes no mention of gun control nor any other issue, and it asks for donations of between $50 and $500 for the Aug. 9 “garden party” at a private residence in Kennebunk.