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Can Democrats Unseat Bruce Poliquin?

AUGUSTA, Maine — While the 2nd District congressional election is more than a year away, Democrats are continuing their assault on Poliquin's voting record.

They believe the freshman congressman — with deep connections to Wall Street — will be highly vulnerable in 2016. But state GOP officials say they don't see Poliquin's support slipping at all in the 2nd district.

In the eight months since Poliquin has assumed office, Democrats have tried to portray his support of the House GOP budget as proof that he is a lock-step ideologue who takes his cues from the conservative playbook.

They say that particular budget would have turned Medicare into a voucher program for future beneficiaries, reduced funding for Pell Grants that provide financial assistance to thousands of Maine students and would have changed federal credit policies, making it more difficult for Mainers to buy a home.

"Partisanship has run amok in Washington, D.C., and the Democrats are doing everything they can to attack Bruce Poliquin," says Poliquin's campaign adviser, Brent Littlefield.

Democrats have also been cranking out press releases decrying Poliquin's role as a member of the House Financial Services Committee while accepting huge campaign contributions from the Wall Street power brokers he's supposed to be overseeing.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Poliquin ranks 2nd in Congress for the amount of money accepted from Wall Street contributors, at $132,000. That's about 12 percent of his total war chest.

"It certainly raises questions about his motivations and I think the people living on Main Streets all along the 2nd Congressional District have to wonder whose interests he's really representing," says Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett. "I think the people of the 2nd Congressional District care a lot more about protecting Medicare, about creating jobs, about making sure their kids can go to college at an affordable price. Those are the issues that people really care about and he seems to be ignoring those in order to support his friends on Wall Street."

But University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer says these issues may not garner all that much political traction for Poliquin's opponents.

"I think that some of things that the Maine Democratic Party has been throwing out over the past few days pointing to the things that are going to hurt Poliquin, whether it be Pell Grants or the Wall Street money, I don't think those amount to much," Brewer says. "The one thing I would say I'm at least interested in watching right now is the GE jobs story."

Brewer's referring to Tuesday's announcement from GE about its decision to shift up to 500 U.S. manufacturing jobs to Europe and China, blaming Congress' failure to re-authorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank, or EXIM.

The move will affect 80 in Bangor, and Democrats quickly pointed to several procedural votes in Congress that they say reflect Poliquin's opposition to EXIM and make him responsible for the loss of those jobs.

Littlefield says Democrats are distorting the EXIM issue, which he says has yet to be decided.

"There has been no vote on the bank in the Congress," Littlefield says. "The congressman is not advocating to anybody that the vote be delayed or that the bank be delayed — quite the contrary. He is merely trying to raise the issue of fraud and corruption at the bank, which over the last five years has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in fines."

Jeb Fain at the D.C.-based Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee acknowledged that the votes described in Poliquin's press release were procedural, but he also says Poliquin has failed to take positions in support of EXIM.

"He's voted repeatedly against allowing an up or down vote to reauthorize the bank," Fain says. "He wants to drag this into a procedural discussion to distract voters from the fact that he is the only member of Maine's congressional delegation unwilling to stand up for the jobs the bank supports."

State Republican Chair Rick Bennett says the Democrats' offensive thrust may be concealing what the party already knows: that it can't win next November.

One of the two Democrats taking on Poliquin is former state Sen. Emily Cain, who only pulled 40 percent of the vote in the district against Poliquin's 45 percent, and in a three way race worked against Poliquin. Bennett says if Cain wins the party's nomination for a rematch, he's not sure what has changed in the voting demographics of the 2nd District, other than that they are getting older and more conservative with each election cycle.

"If you look at the election results from the 2nd District, not only in the congressional race but in the other races, you can see that happening," Bennett says. "Lewiston, which is the largest city in the 2nd District, voted overwhelmingly to re-elect Gov. LePage. I think that there has been a shift in that district."

Whether that shift could signal the beginning of a GOP lock on the 2nd Congressional District is something only time will tell. And there's plenty of that — another 13 months before voters will decide whether Poliquin has earned a second term in Congress.