Three-way race creates fireworks in northern Maine

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CARIBOU (AP) — The Maine governor’s race isn’t the only three-way contest with candidates running neck-and-neck and the possibility of an independent playing the role of spoiler.

Voters in Maine’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District will decide a hard-fought race featuring Democrat Emily Cain and Republican Bruce Poliquin, who are battling for an open seat that’s been in Democratic control for 20 years. The race also features a third candidate who could siphon votes from Poliquin.

Independent Blaine Richardson has no intention of dropping out, saying voters need choices.

“People are fed up. It’s partisanship. It’s gridlock. And it’s not leadership,” said Richardson, a retired Navy captain who lives in Belfast.

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The race to fill the seat left empty by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s decision to run for governor has featured millions of dollars being spent on negative television and radio ads targeting Cain, who casts her Republican opponent as an obstructionist, and Poliquin, who casts Cain as an inexperienced liberal who doesn’t understand Maine because wasn’t born here. Richardson has raised little money and trails in the polls.

Cain, a state senator, has promoted her willingness to work with both parties while accusing Poliquin of being a candidate who’d contribute to partisan gridlock and of running a “divisive, nasty, negative campaign.” She also accused him of gaming the system by enrolling in a tree growth program to reduce taxes on his oceanfront property.

“This campaign is about someone who wants to move Maine forward in a way that brings people together, and someone who’s known for breaking the rules and rigging the system to help himself,” she said.

Poliquin, a former state treasurer, accuses Cain of trying to take credit for Gov. Paul LePage’s tax cuts after fighting them. He said she’s pushed a carbon tax that could hurt Mainers and that she’s tried to deflect criticism of her record by launching personal attacks.

“I have 35 years of experience growing the economy and creating jobs. Emily Cain has no experience creating jobs. She’s always received a paycheck from the taxpayers,” he said, contrasting his years in the private sector against her employment at the University of Maine and as a part-time lawmaker.

Voters like Rick Pelkey are frustrated by the negative tone.

“It gives you a bad taste. Let’s keep it positive,” said Pelkey, who works in an auto parts store in Caribou. An independent, he said he wishes there was a “none-of-the-above” option on the ballot.

Once uncommon in Maine, the negative tone is something voters should get used to, said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine.

“It’s just the way politics are moving. It’s catching up with Maine. You may think that’s a bad thing, but it’s just the way it is,” he said.

Polls indicate Richardson has little chance of winning, but the conservative could make a difference in a tight race by drawing votes from Poliquin. Poliquin tried to keep Richardson out of the public debates and even went so far as to ask Richardson, a former Republican, to drop out.

A similar scenario is playing out in the race for governor.

LePage, a Republican, is being challenged by independent Eliot Cutler, who came in second place in the governor’s race in 2010, along with Michaud.

Cain suggested that the National Republican Congressional Committee’s recent decision to pull out additional funding points toward growing momentum for her candidacy.

But Poliquin said he’s in good shape, with more cash on hand during the final stretch. “We’re going full bore,” he said.

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