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GOP Primary Shakes Up Maine's 2nd District
06/11/2014   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

The political landscape in Maine's 2nd Congressional District is still shaking, less than 24 hours after the polls closed on Tuesday. Former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin defeated veteran politican Kevin Raye in a bitter GOP primary that many predict will make unity in November a difficult task. Still, as A.J. Higgins reports, some gubernatorial candidates see opportunity in a divided Republican house.

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Poliquin declares victory

Bruce Poliquin address supporters after winning Tuesday's Republican primary against Kevin Raye.

The pundits and political prognosticators said about 10 percent of Maine Republicans would show up at the polls. They were wrong. It was more like 25 percent, more than half of which represented very conservative Republicans.

The pundits also said that the tea party movement, and pro-life activists, would not be significant factors on Election Day, yet both were out in spades.

The combination of these factors, along with Kevin Raye's failure to capture the hearts of the GOP right-wing, spelled disaster for the moderate Republican in his third try for Congress. And Sandy Maisal, a political science professor at Colby College, says he can understand why moderate Republicans in Maine are disillusioned today.

"Not only was their influence rejected in that 2nd District primary, but I think that they were shown that they don't have much of a role in the Republican party," Maisal says.

Kevin RayeAnd it's not just moderate Republicans like Raye (left), who's brand of centrism and bipartisanship comes from his stint as a long-time chief of staff for former Sen. Olympia Snowe. There is also a sizeable contingent of unenrolled voters who call themselves independents, but in reality tend to lean Republican.

Together, they now represent a sizeable block of voters who might have been reliable Raye supporters. Maisal says it seems unlikely that Poliquin will be able to adjust far enough to the center to capture their support. And that, he says, leads to only a few options.

"They have to decide whether they want to put their faith in an independent or vote for a Democrat to demonstrate this socially conservative, somewhat extreme wing of the Republican party can't win a statewide election in a two-person race," Maisal says. "That's a strategic position."

And the results of the 2nd District vote could also have implications in the gubernatorial race. Independent Eliot Cutler and Democratic nominee Mike Michaud now know exactly how charged up conservative Republicans and independents are likely to be in November, particularly in northern Maine.

MaryEllen FitzGerald, of the Portland polling firm Critical Insights, says both Michaud and Cutler will be stepping up their game in the coming weeks to carve out small portions of the disaffected voter group in a tight three-way race for the Blaine House. She says the middle of the political spectrum has struggled in Maine, and in other parts of the country.

"The economy is it - that's all people are talking about," FitzGerald says. "And as the economy continues to stagnate and consumer confidence erodes, then the idealism of that middle group tends to to dissipate, and they tend to become more likely to join a stronger, more polarizing function. Because people want change, and whenpeople want change you don't see a clear middle - you see a strong right or a strong left."

At Cutler headquarters in Portland, volunteers are manning the phones trying to get voters out to a meet-and-greet with the Bangor native and Cape Elizabeth lawyer. Cutler's take on the 2nd District primary is that Democrat Emily Cain's win with 70 percent of the vote is a statement of how party rank and file feel about Cain's opponent, Troy Jackson, whom Cutler describes as Michaud's mirror image.

Lizzy Reinholt, Michaud's communications director,disagrees and says Michaud's style is more collaborative, and Cain-like.

"Most voters are actually looking for compromise and someone who is going to bring people together just like Mike Michaud," Reinholt says. "So for us, Mike's focused on traveling throughout the state and traveling throughout the 2nd Congressional District, talking to as many voters as possible."

And as for Republicans, Cutler says he is the obvious choice.

"Seventy-five percent of Republicans didn't vote, 45 percent or so of the turnout voted for the moderate, Kevin Raye," says Cutler. "To me, both of these primaries in the 2nd District demonstrate huge potential for an independent like me up there."

At least among Republicans other than former state Sen. Debbie Plowman - a Raye supporter who was devastated by the 2nd District GOP primary results. She says there are still other options for disaffected Republicans who feel that Poliquin's personal attacks on Raye during the campaign are unforgiveable.

"The rationale of, you know, 'If you burn everything to the ground, great, and all you have to do is join me on the podium and everything's just fine,' and it's not." Plowman says.

Plowman says Republican voters who are feeling that way today might just decide to stay home in November.

Bruce Poliquin Photo: Mal Leary

Kevin Raye Photo: Courtesy Maine Senate


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