It may have been overshadowed in recent days by national controversies, but the contest between incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin and repeat Democratic challenger Emily Cain to represent Maine’s 2nd District in Congress is the state’s top race this election season.
Unfortunately, in recent days, it’s also gone down into the gutter.
Instead of focusing on the issues and explaining her ideas, Cain has chosen to make the campaign all about Poliquin. That’s understandable for a challenger facing an uphill climb in a difficult district. What’s less forgivable is the series of nasty, misleading and outright false attacks launched against Poliquin by Cain and her allies.
Cain has been throwing constant attacks, hoping something will work. She’s tried to relitigate Poliquin’s use of the state’s tree growth tax credit on his property in southern Maine. Cain used this issue against Poliquin in their 2014 race, and it didn’t work then — probably because he was simply using a popular tax credit used by many other Mainers. What’s remarkable, however, is that in all her years in the state Legislature — including time spent in leadership and on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee — Cain apparently didn’t notice this “loophole” in the credit until she realized it was being used by a political opponent.
She either was fully aware of how the program worked and didn’t do anything about it, or she didn’t know anything about it.
Cain has also attempted to play off the populism stoked by both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in this election, attacking Poliquin over free trade and for taking money from Wall Street. Unfortunately for Cain, it’s difficult for her to draw a contrast on trade when Poliquin, like her, opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal negotiated by President Barack Obama. So, she’s been running an attack ad against Poliquin using a clip in which he says he supports free trade. Essentially, she’s attacking Poliquin for having a nuanced position on the issue, arguing that she’s more against free trade than he is without explaining why her “no” vote on the TPP would be superior to his.
It’s also difficult for Cain to criticize Poliquin for his fundraising tactics. After all, she’s not some unknown challenger; she’s a top recruit in a race in which the national Democratic Party is heavily invested. As such, she’s run around the country raising money for her campaign from top Democratic donors. Moreover, her allies at the state and national levels have been spending money on her behalf, and Wall Street is well represented in the donor class of both parties. Indeed, the same Maine Democratic Party that is now sending mailer after mailer attacking Poliquin for raising money on Wall Street had no problem accepting donations from hedge fund millionaire Donald Sussman in years past.
Mainers deserve a better campaign, and Cain could be running it, detailing the accomplishments she’s proud of through a decade of service in the Legislature.
Instead, she is attempting to create disagreement where it doesn’t exist in a bid to further divide the state — a strategy that D.C. insiders usually push.
However, if Cain closely follows her party’s blueprint for running a campaign, is it really reasonable to expect that she’ll do a 180 the minute she’s elected to Congress and act independently? Or is it more likely that she’ll continue to do as her party wishes in Congress, rather than listen to the voters who elected her?