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Maine's 2nd District Campaign Heating Up Way Early

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is still learning the ropes when it comes to the complexities of how Congress operates, but he is already under attack by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The contest for Maine's 2nd Congressional District is emerging as a one of the most targeted in the country in 2016.

The two parties are months away choosing their nominees in the race in the 2nd District, but the contest is already underway.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running radio ads in the Bangor and Augusta markets criticizing Poliquin's position on the import-export bank re-authorization.

"He has proven with his voting record, time and again, that he is out of step with the interests of the district," says Matt Thornton, communications director for the DCCC, as it is known. "This is just one example, there are many others. He votes virtually in lock step with the Republican leadership in Washington D.C."

The ad is no real surprise to the Poliquin campaign. Brent Littlefield, Poliquin’s campaign consultant, says the Democrats have a mistaken belief they can beat Poliquin in the election, which won't take place until a year from this November.

"This seems more to be a political stunt like other things that have happened recently rather than a full-scale ad," Littlefield says. "It's only 15 seconds long, it only consists of two sentences and my guess is they are not going to run it in a lot of places."

Littlefield is also dismissive of a report card announced by the Democratic Party earlier this week giving failing grades to Poliquin.

All this raises questions about why the political attacks are being launched so early in the race. Colby College government professor Tony Corrado says there's a good reason.

"The 2nd District battle has become one of the top targeted races in the country as far as both political parties are concerned," he says.

And there are other factors at play. University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer says the race has been targeted because of a pattern reflected over the history of House elections across the country.

"The research shows, relatively convincingly, that the most vulnerable that an incumbent member of the House of Representatives is likely ever going to be, barring a scandal or some individual specific circumstance, is their first re-election," he says.

Democrats are now facing a primary next spring between Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, whose brother John once held the seat, and former State Sen. Emily Cain of Orono, who lost by five percentage points to Poliquin last year. And there could be another candidate or two by the filing deadline next spring.

While it's not common for an incumbent to face a primary opponent, University of Maine at Farmington political science professor Jim Melcher warns that it's still very early.

"People don't get fired up until Labor Day of the election, right?" he says. "Ahhh … that's Labor Day next year much less Labor Day this year."

Melcher says that few Mainers are paying attention to politics this summer, but that won't stop those who are trying to gain whatever small advantage they can in a race that is likely to set records for spending.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.