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GOP Candidates Sling Mud in Maine State Senate Race
06/06/2014   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

If you're talking politics in Maine's 2nd Congressional District and someone mentions how they've never seen two Republicans go after each other with such a vengeance, you might assume they're referring to GOP rivals Kevin Raye and Bruce Poliquin. Unless, of course, you happened to be in Piscataquis County - the site of an intense primary battle between two conservative Republicans vying for a state Senate seat. The race in District 4 between incumbent Doug Thomas of Ripley and challenger Paul Davis of Sangerville has turned decidedly negative. And, as A.J. Higgins reports, both men say the ill will created by this primary will live on long after the ballots are counted next Tuesday.

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If you were to ask most Democrats at the State House, they would tell you there's not a dime's worth of difference between Thomas and Davis - both are passionately loyal to Gov. Paul LePage and reliable hard-line conservatives. And at one point, the two were friends. But that was before they became political rivals.

"They say negative campaigning works," Davis says. "We'll see. I don't like it."

Davis says things changed between the two men after Thomas, the incumbent senator for the region approached him last summer at a barbeque at the governor's mansion. Davis says Thomas assured him that if he wanted to leave his house seat and make a run for the Senate, Thomas would stand aside and actively support him.

"And then in August, I told him we were going to do it, and that he had given his word and that he would keep it and he'd stand aside. And then in October he came to me and said he had changed his mind, he wanted to run," Davis says. "Well, I had put a campaign together and I had a fellow who was interested in my seat and I had spent some money and I just didn't think that I ought to back out."

Thomas concedes that Davis is mostly right, but sees the history somewhat differently.

"My guess is that in one of those conversations, I indicated that I had had enough, and it's not unusual for me to do that. And Paul wanted to step up to the Senate so he heard what he wanted to hear," Thomas says. "The problem I have with that is that he had already committed himself to advertising for the primary. And so he was going to run whether I stepped aside or not."

Of the roughly 20 primaries Maine legislative candidates will compete in next Tuesday, Senate District 4 may hold the highest stakes. Heading north on Route 7 from Newport, signs for Democrat candidates are virtually non-existent. No Democratic Senate candidate has held the Piscataquis County seat since 1991, and if history is a guide, the primary's winner is an odds-on favorite for election in November.

Both candidates know this. And, says Thomas, the race has been characterized, not by constructive debate, but by mudslinging.

"The name calling that Paul has started recently, calling me a chameleon and a skunk, " Thomas says.

But Thomas has also taken shots. On the back pages of The Eastern Gazette, a Piscataquis County weekly, Thomas said Davis was out of touch with Republican priorities, sponsoring frivolous legislation, like making the whoopee pie the official state treat. Thomas also said Davis had voted against a LePage budget containing tax cuts, but at the same time put out a newspaper ad suggesting he had garnered an endorsement from LePage.

"I showed that ad to the governor this morning and the governor was furious," Thomas says, "because the governor has very carefully stayed out of this, he's not endorsing anyone. I understood that and haven't asked him to endorse. But it's so much of the contentiousness of this campaign and the way things have been spun."

Davis says the ad was not intended to appear as an endorsement from LePage. "I have not asked for it and he hasn't offered," he says. LePage has said that he was not endorsing any candidates in the primaries.

Regardless of the outcome in the District 4 Senate race on Tuesday, it's likely that bad blood will continue within the GOP ranks of Piscataquis County.



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