GOP divisions on display in Maine primary race
FILE - In this April 26, 2014 file photo, Bruce Poliquin, Republican candidate in Maine's 2nd Congressional District, speaks at the Maine GOP Convention in Bangor, Maine. Poliquin, a Harvard-educated businessman and former state treasurer, faces Kevin Raye in the June 10 primary. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
FILE - In this April 26, 2014 file photo, Kevin Raye, Republican candidate in Maine's 2nd Congressional District, speaks at the Maine GOP Convention in Bangor, Maine. Raye, former chief of staff to Sen. Olympia Snowe, faces Bruce Poliquin in the June 10 primary. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
In northern Maine’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District, where views tend to run more conservative than in the state’s heavily populated south, a spirited race for the Republican congressional nomination has voters deciding between a Tea Party-backed candidate or a traditional New England conservative.
Kevin Raye, former chief of staff to Sen. Olympia Snowe, has been cast as the establishment Republican running against a conservative with Tea Party credentials, Bruce Poliquin.
With the June 10 vote looming, the race is getting nasty, with Poliquin attacking Raye as a “liberal” and a “career politician” who refused to sign a no-tax pledge and Raye describing Poliquin as a polarizing candidate who will do anything to get elected, including relocating for an open seat to avoid taking on Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree in the 1st District.
The negative attacks risk alienating some voters: “I know it’s probably effective, but not with me. I don’t like it,” said GOP voter Stan Moore.
GOP divisions have been on display in primary elections across the nation in recent weeks, with candidates representing the GOP’s establishment wing beating back Tea Party challengers in U.S. Senate races in Kentucky, North Carolina and elsewhere.
But conservative activists traditionally play an outsized role in lower-turnout elections – as Maine’s 2nd district is expected to be.
Beth Wallinga, a conservative from Old Town, said Maine’s Tea Party activists and libertarians want someone who reflects their values in the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who’s running for governor.
“Call us backwoods hicks or whatever you want. We value our privacy. We value our personal rights,” she said. “You’ve got to go with the candidate who most likely will protect that way of life.”
Raye, 53, has deep roots in Washington County, where his family runs a small business, Raye’s Mustard in Eastport. He served as Snowe’s chief of staff in Washington for years before returning to Maine to serve in the state Senate.
Poliquin, 60, is a Harvard-educated businessman whose career took him from Waterville to Chicago and New York before he returned to Maine and served as state treasurer.
Both were in Augusta when the legislature, with Raye as Senate president, approved GOP Gov. Paul LePage’s tax cuts and pension reforms. Poliquin supported the measures as treasurer in LePage’s administration.
With the stakes high, the candidates haven’t been shy about trading barbs. Poliquin has portrayed Raye as a moderate insider willing to compromise party principles, while Raye has cast Poliquin as a carpetbagger for moving into the district late last year. Both candidates reject those characterizations.
Poliquin moved from the coastal city of Georgetown to Oakland in December. He said he doesn’t like being attacked for choosing to live in a home that’s been in the family for years or for his success in business.
“My opponent is a career politician. This is what he’s been doing for his whole life,” he said, accusing Raye of going negative and being “inconsistent” on issues including taxes and universal health care.
Raye said history has shown he can work with both parties to move in a conservative direction. Poliquin, he said, would contribute to partisan gridlock.
“He wants to be part of stalemate and dysfunction. I’d like to go down there and solve problems and move beyond the ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ approach,” Raye said. “That doesn’t mean to compromise your principles.”
Neither has a huge fundraising advantage in the race’s final days. Poliquin had $141,000 and Raye $162,000 of cash on hand in reports this week.
House GOP leader Ken Fredette, who lives in Newport, said Republicans will need to quickly put the divisive campaign behind them.
“It’s important that once the primary is done that Republicans come out united, whether the candidate is Bruce or Kevin. The seat is clearly in play,” he said.