Maine Republicans have about two weeks to choose between three 2nd Congressional District candidates who have spent much of their campaigns praising President Donald Trump but have carved out different areas of interest.
The hopefuls vying to challenge freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden — real estate agent Adrienne Bennett of Bangor, former state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn and former state Rep. Dale Crafts of Lisbon — have all built their race around supporting President Donald Trump, often praising him for a strong economy that faltered due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The candidates have shown up at protests led by conservatives blasting Gov. Janet Mills’ economic restrictions stemming from the coronavirus. Brakey was the only one who did not support the $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by Trump. That libertarian streak carries over into differences with the others on foreign policy and policing.
Those issues are sure to matter to Republicans who put fiscal issues such as taxes and spending at the top of their list this winter in a Bangor Daily News reader survey on election priorities. Behind that was jobs and the economy and national security. Here are the differences between those candidates, taking those priorities and recent events into account.
Brakey has differentiated himself as more of a libertarian, breaking with Bennett and Crafts on foreign policy and federal spending. Brakey came to Maine in 2012 when he worked on the Republican presidential campaign of Ron Paul. His support for more libertarian candidates continued in 2016, when Brakey chaired Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s primary campaign before eventually supporting Trump in the general election.
That change in alliance is something his opponents try to hit him on frequently, but Brakey has plenty of views that align himself with the president. He is supportive of Trump’s stated goal to pull U.S. troops out of the Middle East. It put him directly at odds with Crafts during a February debate. Crafts said that a retreat would cause economic and international instability.
But Brakey has deviated from his support of the president on the CARES Act, which sent billions of dollars in aid to states and corporations, as well as relief money to small businesses and individuals. The $2 trillion bill drew the ire of Brakey, who has made criticism of government spending and the deficit a central part of his platform.
He told the Sun Journal in March that the bill was paid for “by stealing from our retirements with inflation and the futures of our children with debt” and that the relief checks sent in the mail wouldn’t cover the costs to taxpayers in the long run.
Bennett and Crafts pounced on that stance, saying the bill was critical for Americans to weather the pandemic. While both reiterated their support for the bill during the June 10 debate, Crafts and Bennett agreed that federal spending should be reined in.
The three candidates have vocalized support for police, but Brakey has gone furthest in backing accountability measures. Like most Republicans, the candidates’ responses to protests over instances of police brutality and racism across the country after the deaths of Black people including George Floyd in Minneapolis have been to indicate support for police.
But they take different approaches to police reform while vocalizing support for law enforcement. During a June 10 NEWS CENTER Maine candidate forum, Bennett called for stakeholders to find common ground and identify problems. She argued that the issue should be approached from a budgeting perspective of “needs versus wants.”
Crafts took a more general approach, saying some sort of reform should happen when a police officer has had multiple complaints lodged against him, as was the case with Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin — who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes before he died. He also said any industry is going to have “bad apples” and called activist calls to defund police “ludicrous.”
Brakey, who did not attend the forum, called Floyd’s death an “unacceptable tragedy” in a statement. He said he supports banning no-knock raids and policies that protect “rotten apples.”
The candidates’ experiences have shaped the issues they want to tackle in office. The three candidates are different in age and background. Brakey, 31, is a longtime political operative. Bennett, 41, is a former TV reporter best known for her tenure as a spokesperson to former Gov. Paul LePage. Crafts, 61, is a businessman who served four terms in the Legislature and has used a wheelchair since he was paralyzed in a 1983 crash.
Bennett has styled herself an unconventional politician shaped by her poor upbringing in rural Waldo county and having her daughter at a young age. During the Lewiston forum, she indicated interest in transportation and infrastructure policy in Congress.
Brakey has leaned on his time in the Legislature, often pointing to a bill he sponsored that removed concealed carry permit requirements in Maine. He has made “personalizing health care” a part of his platform, including expanding health savings accounts and putting Medicaid money into them. In February, he said he would seek a role shaping health policy in Congress.
Crafts, meanwhile, has built his platform on his history as a businessman and a legislator, which won him the endorsement of LePage as he announced his candidacy last fall. He has expressed interest in serving on fiscal committees to leverage that experience.