Despite a big win in his re-election battle last year, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin remains a top target for Democrats who plan to start going after him with online ads soon.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee listed the second-term Republican among the incumbents it aims to unseat in a 2018 race it hopes to turn into a referendum on President Donald Trump’s agenda.

And his vote in favor of an unpopular health care measure this week may make him more vulnerable, Democrats said.

“Make no mistake about it: Poliquin must face the music, look his constituents in the eye, and answer for the mess he created. There is no question that this bill will cause incredible pain for hardworking Americans, particularly those fighting to make ends meet, and this vote will haunt Poliquin through Election Day,” the campaign committee’s chairman, Ben Ray Luján, said in a prepared statement.

But the state Republican Party’s executive director, Jason Savage, said Democrats are “buying their own hype” on the health care bill and are unlikely to see the gains they hope among those who have supported Poliquin.

So far the Democrats have only one contender seeking to unseat Poliquin, a rural mail carrier named Phil Cleaves with no political experience. But others will jump in if they sense Poliquin might falter at the polls.

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The Cook Political Report rates Poliquin as a likely winner, a category it describes as “not considered competitive at this point,” but one that has “the potential to become engaged.”

It also noted the Trumpcare vote was “consistent with past scenarios that have generated a midterm wave” against the party in power.

Poliquin topped Democrat Emily Cain on Nov. 8 for the second consecutive election to hold Maine’s 2nd District, a place where Trump posted a big win as well.

Though Democrats may smell blood, Poliquin’s district appears to have shifted sharply toward the GOP column.

In 2012, Barack Obama defeated his Republican challenger by a 53-44 margin in the district. Four years later, Poliquin beat Cain by the same margin, helped at least a bit by Trump’s 51-41 victory in the district.

Savage said both Poliquin and Trump told voters clearly that they intended to “repeal and replace” President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act because it is failing. That they are following through on that promise isn’t going to the hurt the GOP, he said.

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“Forecasting the Armageddon” may help Democrats fire up their own base and raise money, Savage said, but it won’t work to undermine Poliquin once voters see for themselves that the fearful predictions of his critics aren’t coming true.

Even so, Democrats still see an opportunity to knock off the only GOP House member in New England by capitalizing on what they see as a rising tide of resistance to Trump.

“House Republicans and Trump Administration are pushing a wildly unpopular agenda that threatens their standing from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt,” according to a recent memorandum from Dan Sena, executive director of the committee.

“House Democrats are starting the 2018 election cycle on offense,” Sena said, pointing to anti-Trump marches and protests across the country.

“This widespread backlash will only grow as Trump and House Republicans continue to ignore this loud chorus from their constituents, who so clearly oppose what this Republican-controlled Washington D.C. has to offer,” he said.

“The Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act is deeply unpopular, and will continue to create political backlash across the country,” Sena said.

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“Republican attacks on Medicare, Social Security and Planned Parenthood, and efforts to gut ethics and transparency safeguards will have repercussions at the ballot box.”

Savage said Poliquin has a solid record of trying to fix the problems in his district — where he “goes out and works his butt off every day” — instead of defending a troubled status quo on health care and other issues that voters experience.

He said the congressman does a good job of clearly explaining his views on the issues and treats voters like adults instead of relying on scare tactics. His constituents appreciate that, Savage said.

History provides some comfort to the Democrats.

In the past century, the president’s party has lost seats in his first midterm election in every election except two: 1934 and 2002. On average, though, the party in power has lost 28 seats in the House in the first contest after a president takes office.

On the other hand, history also shows that it’s awfully tough to defeat a two-term incumbent unless there’s a political tsunami that sweeps across the nation, especially one whose district went for Trump by such a wide margin.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin


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