A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
The 2022 campaign cycle is being marked by tension on two top issues, with big-name Republicans focusing on heavy costs and inflation and Democrats gaining momentum after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down federal abortion rights.
Both subjects are amplified in Maine’s two biggest races this year for governor and the 2nd Congressional District. While Republicans have tried to prosecute a nationalized case against Democrats with economic uncertainty at the center, Democrats have tried raise the specter of abortion bans under a third term of former Gov. Paul LePage. Republicans have been wary to run on that issue at all levels in a state with permissive abortion laws.
Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the Republican running against Rep. Jared Golden in the 2nd District, is an interesting character in the debate. While both he and LePage have staunch anti-abortion records, Poliquin has burnished his socially conservative credentials more in key campaigns. After winning in 2014, he voted for a federal ban on most abortions after 20 weeks. (It went nowhere under then-President Barack Obama and Senate filibuster rules.)
He filled out a 2014 survey by saying he would support a constitutional amendment banning abortion. While other candidates used asterisks to indicate support for abortion rights only in the cases of rape or incest, he did not, though he said in interviews that he supports those exceptions, plus one for the health of the mother or child. After winning, he voted for a federal ban on most abortions after 20 weeks that never got past the Republican-led House.
After the high-court ruling effectively put abortion rights back in the hands of states, Poliquin noted his “pro-life” stance while saying he trusted Mainers to set abortion policy. But he did not say at a June news conference if he supported a 15-week ban backed by House leaders in his party, referring a question on it to House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Poliquin answered a recent questionnaire from the evangelical Christian Civic League of Maine by answering “no” to a question on whether Congress should restrict abortion. That is the same answer most Democrats would give, though Poliquin made clear that he thinks it should be left to states and criticized Golden for what he called an “extreme” position on abortion.
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That brings us to Tuesday, when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, introduced a 15-week abortion ban that split Republicans, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, saying most of his caucus wants abortion to be left to states. Poliquin’s campaign did not answer a question about whether he would support such a law.
Poliquin’s recent statements should not be read as a signal that his position has changed relative to 2015, said Mike McClellan, a former Republican state representative who now serves as the civic league’s political director. He said Poliquin is merely mirroring the terms the high court laid out.
“I have no doubt in my mind where Bruce Poliquin is and he’s on the right side,” he said. “What he’s saying is, ‘Let the Maine people decide.'”
So the shift from Poliquin may not be much of a shift at all. While abortion is likely to be a bigger factor in the governor’s race than in the more-conservative 2nd District, the former representative is still treating the issue with more caution than he has in the past. Costs are at the center of his run and the hierarchy of these issues in voters’ minds will still help frame this race.