Is Bruce Poliquin, the former two-term congressman in Maine’s 2nd District, a far-right kook? A traditional conservative? A Republican in name only, secretly harboring centrist views?
Based on comments Poliquin has made during this year’s campaign to reclaim his old seat, it’s hard to tell. He’s given few substantive interviews and refuses to debate his opponent in the GOP primary, Liz Caruso, a Caratunk selectwoman.
Surely the four years Poliquin spent in Congress, from 2015 to 2019, provide evidence about his position on issues. Well, sorta. During that time, he voted the Republican Party line, while refusing to answer questions about where he stood in regard to Donald Trump or any other controversial issue that might cost him a vote or two.
This time around, Poliquin has been less timid about aligning himself with Trump, as well as former governor Paul LePage, who’s also seeking to return to his old job. But he’s still keeping his ideological leanings vague. He’s against illegal immigration (who isn’t?). He’s against high inflation (who isn’t?). He supports small businesses (who doesn’t?). He’s against abortion and gun control (although he used to favor the latter). Mostly, that’s it.
Poliquin doesn’t need to pretend to be moderate. He’s got Caruso to enhance the perception he’s the middle-of-the-roader in this race, and she’s done an excellent job.
In a May interview with News Center Maine, Caruso, a leader of the successful referendum to stop Central Maine Power’s energy corridor, said the United States “can’t be funding” efforts by Ukraine to defend itself against a Russian invasion.
“I do not believe that, right now, our national security threat is the border of Russia,” Caruso said. “I believe that our national security threat is our own southern border.”
In a rare moment of decisiveness, Poliquin told the Bangor Daily News he supports continued funding: “Russia is a threat not only to Ukraine but to other democracies, including Sweden and Finland, who have applied for NATO membership.”
Caruso is part of the small segment of the Republican Party that advocates isolationism. Poliquin is standing with GOP leadership (as well as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi) in taking a semi-interventionist approach.
Caruso isn’t shy about her more extreme views. According to the Bangor paper, she told a small gathering in Waterville that if elected, she planned to work closely with the wacky faction in Congress, including U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Poliquin gets all huggy and kissy with Trump and LePage, but dodges questions about who he’ll suck up to in Washington, except to say he opposes the “liberal Pelosi-Biden agenda.” A campaign spokesman added he favors “Governor LePage’s efforts to cut taxes and rein in wasteful spending.”
Of course, Poliquin doesn’t have to go to extremes to win the Republican nomination in the June primary. According to campaign finance reports, he has roughly a zillion dollars to spend, while Caruso has $2.45 and a gift certificate to Hobby Lobby. He’s the presumed favorite.
Unless the nuts vote in big numbers.
But winning that election by staking out the position of least-crazy candidate might leave Poliquin in a difficult position for the fall campaign, in which he’ll face Democratic incumbent Jared Golden, who beat him four years ago, and independent Tiffany Bond.
Golden – thanks to votes against gun control, for stricter limits on immigration and in opposition to Biden’s massive economic-relief package – already owns the middle ground. There’s not much room there for Poliquin to distinguish himself, leaving him with little except LePage’s coattails to cling to. Bonds’ sort-liberal-sorta-not platform might pull a few votes from Golden, but, as in 2018, he’ll get most of them back if the winner is decided by ranked-choice voting.
That might force Poliquin to attempt a move into Caruso territory for the general election, a risky strategy of shifting his image from phony moderate to faux extremist.
Contrary to my critics’ claims, I just proved myself capable of writing an entire column without once mentioning that Poliquin doesn’t really live in the 2nd District. Congratulations can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.