Bruce Poliquin’s Tea Party conundrum, plus 7 stories you need to read

Maine's 2nd Congressional District candidate Bruce Poliquin, a Republican,  in June. BDN file photo by Brian Feulner

Maine’s 2nd Congressional District candidate Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, in June. BDN file photo by Brian Feulner

The latest salvo by Democrats against the Republican candidate in the 2nd Congressional District, Bruce Poliquin, came in an email yesterday, when Democratic Party officials again linked Poliquin to the Tea Party movement.

The “is he or isn’t he?” question about Poliquin’s relationship with the Tea Party has simmered since he won his party’s primary in June. Poliquin has sought to distance himself from the Tea Party, whose popularity with Republicans is dwindling from its peak in 2010. His opponents, in an attempt to paint Poliquin as an extremist, have sought to link him to the movement.

The question was thrust into a broader spotlight why my State House press corps colleague Alanna Durkin wrote about the issue at some length this weekend. Ali does well to describe Poliquin’s basic problem this way:

Two years ago, Bruce Poliquin kicked off his US Senate campaign at a Tea Party event and courted voters within the ultraconservative movement. But Poliquin, who now hopes to become the first Republican to fill the congressional seat in Maine’s sprawling Second district in nearly two decades, rejects being labeled as a Tea Party candidate.

You should read Alanna’s story, available here.

Brent Littlefield, who you know as a top political strategist for Gov. Paul LePage but is also working with Poliquin, has stressed to me several times that Poliquin hasn’t been endorsed by any Tea Party organization and has never been a member of a Tea Party group.

That may be true during this campaign, but Poliquin was more than happy to accept the endorsement — and cash — of FreedomWorks during his failed 2012 Senate campaign. At that time, Poliquin himself said he was honored to be supported by “such an important group in the national conservative and Tea Party movement.”

None of this is to say Poliquin isn’t within his rights to disavow the Tea Party label today. But if he doesn’t identify with the movement now, many will see that at odds with his past — something Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant was quick to point out in an email blast Tuesday.

Lastly, remember it’s not uncommon for candidates to attempt to moderate their image, or “move to the center,” after winning a primary election. So Poliquin isn’t really treading any new ground here by eschewing far-right associations in favor of more inclusive, moderate ones. Just don’t expect the Democrats to stop putting “Bruce Poliquin” and “Tea Party” in the same sentence for quite a while.

Poliquin is running against Democratic candidate and Maine Sen. Emily Cain of Orono and independent Blaine Richardson of Belfast.

7 stories you need to read

Sorry, readers, for not getting you this blog post Monday, as I usually do. My time was devoted yesterday to covering U.S. Sen. Angus King’s endorsement of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler. I promise to be more reliable in the future.

Better late than never, though. So here’s the 7 stories you need to read from the last week in Maine Politics:

  • Scott Thistle at the Sun Journal had a great analysis on the “downright anti-social” nature of the social media campaigns employed by some in Maine politics.
  • Looking for the best rundown so far of the issues at stake in this November’s bear-baiting referendum? Our Aislinn Sarnacki has got you covered with this exhaustive analysis.
  • Gov. Paul LePage was pretty upset about the abrupt closure of the Old Town Fuel and Fiber mill last week. “They just up and left in the cover of darkness, and I’m very offended by that,” the governor told Chris Cousins
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stumped with LePage last week in Bangor. Meanwhile, Christie’s RGA has spent roughly $3 million on airtime and online ads to help LePage win re-election.
  • Abigail Curtis in the BDN’s Belfast bureau broke this story last week about a House District 97 candidate who no longer lives in that district. In Maine, you can represent a district other than the one where you reside, but it’s still not a great look.
  • Federal authorities say that Maine’s oversight of child care facilities isn’t good enough. Nell Gluckman has the story
  • The ongoing saga at Riverview continues as the state and federal governments duke it out over certification and funding. Chris Cousins has this analysis on what’s a stake at the troubled psychiatric facility in Augusta.

Mea culpa

As an apology for getting you this roundup later than usual, here’s a video of U.S. Sen. Angus King doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. His hair-adjusting technique at the end is A+.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.