AUGUSTA, Maine — With a conservative business group lining up behind U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and a Democratic super-PAC airing ads for Emily Cain, one could say the 2016 campaign in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District began in earnest last week.
But this year’s race has been on the national radar since the Republican beat Cain in 2014. By the end of June, the candidates had raised $4.3 million, exceeding their total from two years ago — the most expensive House election in Maine history.
Poliquin is looking to pitch himself as a pragmatist who has made defending Maine jobs his priority, while Cain’s highlighting her 10-year history as a dealmaker in the Legislature.
To counter those self-portraits, he has branded her as an extreme liberal. She has painted him as a calculating politician who plays both sides of key issues. Here are deconstructions of four key attacks in the race.
Poliquin “voted to kill the Export-Import Bank eight times.”
Cain said this on MPBN on Wednesday after Poliquin blasted her line of attack upon accepting the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He said “there was one vote on the Ex-Im Bank,” and he voted to keep the bank alive.
Poliquin did vote in October to revive the bank after it lapsed amid conservative opposition in June. What Cain references is a host of party-line procedural votes before the bank’s funding lapsed. In those procedural maneuvers, Republicans rejected bringing authorization up for vote.
These votes, however, are a bit of a congressional quirk in which parties virtually always stick together. Pro-bank Republicans voted with anti-bank Republicans on each one.
But Poliquin did seem to straddle those camps throughout the year. He criticized the bank’s chairman at a hearing in June and hammered the bank for “fraud and corruption.” The issue came to a head in last September, when General Electric Co. said it would move production that could support 80 future jobs in Bangor overseas as a result of the lapse.
Democrats jumped on Poliquin, who called the bank “corporate welfare” after the announcement, but he later backed reauthorization, citing certain reforms.
Cain “supports President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran,” which the administration “admits will fund terrorism.”
This was from the National Republican Congressional Committee in June, but Poliquin discussed it in a Thursday interview on WVOM.
Cain does support Obama’s 2015 Iran deal, while Poliquin opposes it. But this line of attack oversimplifies the deal and focuses on just one piece of it.
In short, the deal unfroze roughly $100 billion in Iranian assets that were frozen because of sanctions, but that was in exchange for curbing a nuclear program that experts thought was working toward building a bomb.
Poliquin references a remark by Secretary of State John Kerry in January, when he said “I think that some of” the sanctions relief will go to groups labeled as terrorists.
There’s room to debate the deal. Certainly, no serious American political figure wants this money to flow to terrorists or to put nuclear bomb in the hands of Iran. But it was a nuanced trade-off.
Poliquin’s “record of dodging and delaying taxes.”
This attack, in a Cain fundraising email on Tuesday, combines two pieces of Poliquin’s history — one old and one newly illuminated.
The first has dogged Poliquin since 2012, when he was state treasurer. It relates to his 12-acre coastal property in Georgetown, valued by the town at $3.4 million.
He once had 10 acres on that property in the Maine Tree Growth Program, which gives property tax breaks to landowners who manage commercial forests.
The issue was that Poliquin’s property had a deed restriction that largely prohibited timber harvesting. While some trees were harvested and he paid a full amount of taxes on the other 2 acres, he was allowed to pay just $21 in one year on the larger parcel.
Poliquin’s pulled the property out, and he wasn’t penalized, but his situation was cited in a 2009 state report as an example of “problematic enrollment,” and Gov. Paul LePage proposed a law change this year that would have banned homes such as Poliquin’s from being in the Tree Growth Program.
The new claim comes from an Associated Press review that found Poliquin paid property taxes late 31 times during the past decade. Interest payments were typically small and amounted to roughly $1,000 in total.
Poliquin dismissed them as “the cost of doing business” as a real estate developer. But Cain told MPBN it was “more than just a little” and linked it to his use of the Tree Growth Program.
Cain “hates” tax cuts “for which she now claims credit?”
Poliquin said that in a statement issued to the Associated Press after it reported about his tax issues. But the claim is a little more nuanced than that.
It reaches back to after the 2010 election, when LePage and Republicans won control of Maine’s executive and legislative branches for the first time since the 1960s. Poliquin became treasurer and Cain became House minority leader.
In 2011, LePage and the Legislature passed a budget that included the largest tax cut in Maine history. Passing budgets in Augusta requires bipartisan agreement because two-thirds of both chambers must approve them.
So, Cain wrangled the needed votes as her party’s House leader. But in an editorial board meeting later that year with the Portland Press Herald, she said “my caucus hates these tax cuts,” but they voted for them because of other trade-offs.
Democrats ended up taking back the Legislature in 2012 after campaigning against those “ tax cuts for the rich.” Cain was criticized in her 2014 primary for voting for them, but she took some credit for negotiating them in her losing campaign against Poliquin.
Expect variations on these themes to appear in campaign ads between now and Election Day.