Republican 2nd Congressional District candidate Eric Brakey started off by launching salvos at his two opponents in their Thursday debate, the last meeting before next week’s uncertain primary election.
The former state senator had reason to be on edge. He was the party’s 2018 U.S. Senate nominee and has a consistent fundraising advantage in the race for the right to take on Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who narrowly won the district in a 2018 ranked-choice race.
But a poll released Wednesday by SurveyUSA and paid for by the electoral reform group FairVote showed him in last place behind the front-running former state Rep. Dale Crafts and Adrienne Bennett, who was the spokesperson for former Gov. Paul LePage.
Brakey attacked Crafts and Bennett from his opening remarks. In a race that the three have largely made about backing President Donald Trump, he said his opponents “wrap themselves” in Trump’s flag “while accepting help from the very swamp he is trying to drain” in a reference to an outside group that emerged in late June to attack him.
In particular, Bennett and Brakey clashed. She questioned Brakey’s work history and Brakey shot back by accusing Bennett of being disingenuous about her campaign, dramatically tearing up a printed email that he said was from a supporter who encouraged him to attack Crafts personally.
“Frankly, you should do your own dirty work,” Brakey said. Bennett denied that anyone associated with her campaign would send such an email.
He unloaded on Crafts, saying he had no legislative accomplishments. Brakey cited his sponsoring of a 2015 bill that eliminated a concealed-handgun permit requirement. It has been a sore subject for Crafts, who served four legislative terms from 2008 to 2016 and has accused Brakey of taking the credit for the work of Republicans before him.
The two also dueled over Crafts’ record as a fiscal conservative. Brakey — whose libertarian leanings set him apart from his opponents — pointing to their differences on foreign policy and support of a coronavirus stimulus package that was backed by Trump and both houses of Congress. Crafts said the attacks were an attempt by Brakey to stay relevant in the race.
“He is now attacking Adrienne and I because he has to get his numbers up because he is losing,” he said.
Bennett has carved a foothold in the race on a shoestring campaign that has raised roughly half the money that Crafts has and only a fifth of Brakey’s haul.
Crafts had 37 percent support in the poll to 25 percent for Bennett and 19 percent for Brakey, with another 19 percent undecided. Club For Growth, a fiscal conservative group that backs Brakey, recently sent out mailers accusing her of being a “big spender” and “political insider.”
While Crafts is in a strong position after gathering support from both former Gov. Paul LePage and many Republican lawmakers while avoiding the ire of outside groups, Bennett seemed generally averse to attacking him, saying they had become friends during the campaign.
She even worked in an attack on Brakey before posing a question to Crafts on his stance on Central Maine Power’s $1 billion proposed powerline project through western Maine, questioning the former state senator’s post-election plans if he loses the nomination.
“He’s a career politician, that’s what he wants to do, and I think that’s his only game plan after this because he hasn’t worked in the private sector like Dale and myself,” she said.