Poliquin’s wink, nod and dodge on Trump puts him in a bind

It’s been another bad week for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin as he tries to win re-election.

A new ad and a press conference pummeling the congressman for breaking his promise to firefighters hit the airwaves as Donald Trump Jr., son of the Donald Trump who also happens to be the GOP presidential nominee, campaigned in Maine.

Poliquin has been on the run from Trump since the beginning of the controversial nominee’s rise. He’s refused to answer questions about whether he supports his party’s nominee, going so far as to look absolutely ridiculous when asked about it by reporters.

If Marco Rubio’s brain reboot during the New Hampshire primary cost him a shot at winning the Republican nomination, Poliquin’s antics go even further.

Democratic challenger Emily Cain has doggedly pursued the congressman, urging him to tell voters once and for all where he stands on Trump.

Joined by the Maine Democratic Party, they haven’t let up. And Poliquin has been just as dogged in his avoidance.

He’s really in a bind.

After the release of a lewd tape in which Trump describes sexually assaulting women, there was a new round of Republican defections from the nominee. But national Democratic polling found no easy answer for down-ballot GOP candidates.

If they denounced Trump after his latest scandal, they lost support from the base. If they didn’t, they lost support from swing voters. “The polling also suggests cutting Trump loose, in addition to angering the base, may not earn a GOP lawmaker much credit from swing voters,” wrote Greg Sargent of the Washington Post.

Bruce Poliquin during a debate in Presque Isle with Democratic challenger Emily Cain. Dave Allen | BDN

Bruce Poliquin during a debate in Presque Isle with Democratic challenger Emily Cain. Dave Allen | BDN

By trying to avoid Trump, Poliquin is stuck in the middle of no man’s land, and this week he started taking fire not just from Democrats but from the Trump campaign as well.

During his Tuesday visit to the hotly contested 2nd Congressional District, Trump Jr. showed he hasn’t fallen far from the rhetorical tree, blasting Poliquin for his lack of conviction.

According to Sun Journal reporter Steve Collins, Trump Jr. said Poliquin and other Republicans who won’t support his father are “just protecting themselves and the little environment that they’ve created” so they can stay on the gravy train.

Trump Jr.’s remarks highlighted Poliquin’s slippery approach to his party’s standard bearer, and put him back in the news for something he’s desperately trying to avoid.

If the polling is correct, Poliquin may be stuck: Unable to break with Trump and unable to please Trump’s hardcore supporters who dislike his ambiguity.

The Trumpian takedown came at the same time as a brutally effective attack from Cain. In the ad and during a press conference in Bangor, Cain appeared with professional firefighters who accuse Poliquin of turning his back on them when they needed him.

“Bruce Poliquin said he’d always have our backs. He broke that promise,” says a firefighter from the ad, which describes Poliquin’s unwillingness to sponsor a bill that would provide firefighters who responded to the 9/11 attacks with health care for illness resulting from the work they did on the scene.

“I couldn’t believe our congressman wouldn’t take the lead then and help 9/11 firefighters,” another firefighter says in the ad. (Disclosure: Cain is a friend, I’ve contributed to her campaign, and I like firefighters.)

The race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is one of the most hotly contested in the country, and it’s breaking all kinds of records for spending, particularly by outside groups who are pulling out all the stops.

Polling has the race tied, a bad position for an incumbent less than two weeks from the election.

And while Trump maintained a lead in the district for much of the summer, the most recent public poll now shows a tight race with Hillary Clinton, who is up by 1.5 points, with 10.5 percent undecided.

That trend also works against Poliquin, even as he takes body blows from foes and foes alike (see what I did there?).

I can’t predict whether Trump’s strongest supporters will be satisfied with Poliquin’s wink, nod and dodge about their guy. But they don’t seem to be a tolerant bunch.

The right thing for Poliquin to have done was to disavow Trump early on and take a principled stand against a man who has shown himself to be a racist, misogynist and serial abuser, according to a growing list of accusers.

It’s probably too late for that now, leaving Poliquin to spend two more weeks stuck between his opponent and a sinking Trump as undecided voters make up their minds.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.