LEWISTON — Democratic voters picked Emily Cain to be their candidate in the race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat Tuesday while Republican voters decided Bruce Poliquin would be their party’s selection.

Both Poliquin, a former state treasurer and Cain, a state senator from Orono, won their primary races by decisive margins, setting the stage for what’s bound to be a heated summer and fall political season.

Cain’s staff and a handful of supporters were gathered at the Odlin Road Holiday Inn in Bangor, where they were awaiting final results late Tuesday.

Cain was carrying about 70 percent of the vote with about 80 percent of voting results tabulated. Poliquin appeared poised to win, as well, with about 56 percent of the Republican vote.

A teary-eyed Jackson first thanked and then apologized to his supporters and campaign staff in Lewiston late Tuesday night at his campaign headquarters on Lisbon Street.

“I really appreciate you people; you know that’s how I feel,” Jackson said holding back his emotions. “Obviously, there’s a lot of disappointment for letting people down.” But his campaign staff and supporters cheered him and shouted, “You didn’t let us down.”

Jackson said he would support Cain “wholeheartedly.”

“No offense, but I don’t want to see someone like Bruce Poliquin be our next congressman,” Jackson said. “So I’m going to do everything I can to make sure she is our next congressperson.”

In her victory speech issued by her staff, Cain returned the sentiment.

“I’ve been so honored to campaign alongside Sen. Troy Jackson,” Cain said. “Troy and I have stood shoulder to shoulder in the state Legislature against efforts to roll back workers’ rights and to support raising the minimum wage and expanding access to health care.”
Cain said while she and Jackson had their differences,” … Troy’s personal story and struggle are powerful reminders of our shared values.”
The primary asked Democrats what kind of politician they wanted to send to the Beltway: Cain, who works at the University of Maine’s Honors College, appealed to the progressive wing of her party by trumpeting her longtime support of abortion rights, the environment and same-sex marriage — issues that she says Jackson has been wrong on in the past. She cast herself as a stateswoman, the candidate capable of working with political adversaries to reach a compromise and end gridlock.

Jackson, a logger from Allagash, takes a much more combative tone with his political opponents. He often has butted heads with Republican Gov. Paul LePage, for example. With his bombastic style — as evidenced by a barn-burning speech at the Maine Democratic Convention late last month — he said he’d be a tireless fighter for the working class, whom he said had too long been ignored by Washington. He criticized Cain for “talking like a Republican,” and said she was too willing to cave in to the GOP when they held the majority in the State House from 2010 to 2012.

Poliquin’s opponent, former state Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry, said the former treasurer made an effort to appeal to the party’s most conservative voters and appeared successful.

“He certainly has sought to position himself to the far right,” Raye said of Poliquin. “If he wins today, I expect he’d have a hard time in the general election.”

Raye and Poliquin have been locked in a sometimes bitter primary battle since last year, when the race quickly turned into a contest between Poliquin running as a political outsider claiming to bring a businessman’s approach to Congress and Raye touting his long career of service to northern Maine, first as a paid staff member for former Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and later as a state senator representing Washington County for eight years.

Both have rough histories when it comes to elected office. Raye lost twice in bids for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2002 and 2012, which were both won by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. Poliquin waged unsuccessful primary bids for the governorship in 2010 and for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

There is little difference between Raye and Poliquin on many of the issues most Republicans agree on — cutting government spending, lowering taxes, streamlining regulations they say stand in the way of economic development — but a clear choice has emerged for Republican voters when it comes to how they’d behave in Washington.

Raye, in the model of Snowe, highlighted his collaborative tenure in the Legislature, including two years as Senate president, and said consistently that he will work with others in Congress to find solutions.

“If you take a ‘my way or the highway’ approach and say, this is my position, my feet are in the concrete and I refuse to negotiate, you do nothing to advance your position,” said Raye to the BDN last month.

Poliquin, a self-made millionaire with more than three decades in the investment business, has never balked at labeling himself a fiscal watchdog of the most conservative kind. That includes two years he served as the Maine state treasurer. In recent months Poliquin has attacked Raye for voting in favor of compromise bipartisan state budget bills that included items that politicians from both sides didn’t like.

“Voters want someone who will stand up and be their voice,” Poliquin said.

The campaign grew nasty in the latter stages, with Poliquin labeling Raye a “liberal” and Raye counterpunching with an ad featuring a baby whom the ad claimed had lived longer in the 2nd District than Poliquin, who recently moved to Oakland.

Cain’s strong support of women’s rights and a backer of equal-pay legislation may have helped propel her to victory.

“Today happens to be the 51st anniversary of the day that President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law to end wage disparities based on gender,” Cain said in her victory speech. “Yet, 51 years later here in Maine, women still only make 83 cents for every dollar men bring home. And nationally, that number is 77 cents to the dollar.”

She said in Congress she would be a strong advocate for equal pay for equal work but also promised to support organized labor and a minimum wage increase.

Cain also was largely favored by environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters. Its PAC spent nearly $150,000 on campaign advertising, much of it attacking Jackson’s record.

Poliquin, who has made a point of his strong faith and being a proud, “pro-life Catholic” told a crowd of supporters in Bangor he would not let them down in the months ahead.

“So help me God I will do what is right, you can trust me. I will tell you the truth and without spin,” Poliquin said to supporters who were chanting, “Bruce, Bruce, Bruce . . .” and “Bruce is on the loose!”

Poliquin also offered an olive branch to his GOP rival Raye.

“Kevin has a very distinguished career here serving the state of Maine in the Legislature and serving with Sen. Olympia Snowe for a very long time,” Poliquin said. “We need to all be very gracious. Kevin has fought a very hard fight.”

Poliquin said some people disliked primary elections but said he thinks, “They are healthy for the political process. They make us better as candidates and I want to congratulate Kevin for a hard-fought race.”

Poliquin said Republicans would need Raye’s support going into the fall.

“We are going to need Kevin, we’re going to need his team, his support and his financial backing to make sure we return the 2nd Congressional seat to Republcian hands,” Poliquin said.

Sun Journal State Politics Editor Scott Thistle contributed to this report.


Comments are no longer available on this story