It was no surprise that U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday: The group virtually always backs Republicans and gave him an award in March.
But the setting — in the parking lot of the General Electric plant in Bangor — is notable, since that plant was at the heart of a debate over reauthorization of the federal Export-Import Bank.
The freshman congressman was a central figure in it, and it figures to be an issue that plays into his nationally targeted re-election bid against 2014 opponent Emily Cain, a Democrat.
Last year, the bank that gives loans to foreign buyers of American goods lapsed amid opposition from conservatives who think it distorts free markets, putting them at odds with the U.S. Chamber, President Barack Obama and Democrats.
That reached a fever pitch in September after GE said it would move production that could support 80 future jobs in Bangor overseas as a result of the lapse.
After GE’s announcement, Poliquin called it “corporate welfare” that largely benefits big companies and said the company was using the issue as “a cover to shipping jobs overseas.” Then, Cain called Poliquin’s actions “shameful because they have devastating consequences for the people he is supposed to fight for.”
Poliquin had been talking tough on the bank before that. In June, MPBN reported that he was the only member of Maine’s congressional delegation to oppose reauthorization. Notes from a March meeting with the New England Council said he was a “lean no” on reauthorization.
(Later, Poliquin’s spokesman denied that those items reflected his stance and the meeting notes disappeared from the New England Council’s website.)
But he criticized the bank’s chairman at a hearing in June and hammered it for “fraud and corruption” in a piece for The Maine Wire, leading the Bangor plant’s manager to write a Bangor Daily News op-ed asking Poliquin to put “special interests and political rhetoric aside” and support the bank.
However, Poliquin was in front of the Bangor GE plant on Wednesday to accept the chamber’s endorsement, saying in a statement that he’ll “continue to support legislation that helps our Maine businesses grow and creates a better business climate.”
He immediately followed that with his first official visit to the plant and earlier in the day, Poliquin’s congressional office released a November letter from GE thanking him for voting to reauthorize the bank.
It all comes as Poliquin and Cain look to contrast themselves with voters, even on issues that they technically agree on, including opposition to free trade agreements.
In practice, Poliquin has assumed the mantle of former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, on trade issues. He opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has been a chief defender of policies that would aid New Balance, which employs 900 Mainers.
But he took months to give his final stance on the trade deal with Pacific Rim countries and in a 2014 debate with Cain, he called free trade “good.” Cain noted that in a Wednesday statement, saying she’ll “stand up for working families all the time, not just when it’s politically convenient.”
Taken together, Poliquin’s Wednesday moves were a play to blunt Democratic lines of attack on the issue and drive home his pro-jobs message. It’s not yet Labor Day, but we’ve got a campaign going in the 2nd District.