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Joe Baldacci Complicates Cain's Challenge to Poliquin in Maine

Cain will have to win a primary before facing Poliquin in a rematch. (Meredith Dake/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

New England's only tossup election got a little more complicated last week, when Maine's Joe Baldacci, the brother of former Gov. John Baldacci, filed to run as a Democrat in the 2nd District.  

Democrats' anointed candidate , former state Sen. Emily Cain, who lost by 5 points to Rep. Bruce Poliquin last November, has been in the race since March .  

"It makes it so that she has a primary, but I do not think [Baldacci's] entrance changes the race in any meaningful way," University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer said.  

But even if Baldacci doesn't emerge as a formidable opponent, a primary would force Democrats backing Cain to spend resources they'd prefer to spend against Poliquin, whom the National Republican Congressional Committee made an initial member of its Patriot Program for vulnerable members.  

It's not immediately clear where Baldacci, a Bangor city councilor and attorney, and Cain would differ on policy.  

“She and I probably agree on all the social issues," Baldacci told CQ Roll Call in May, when he was considering a run, "but on the economic issues, I don’t think she’s been there for middle-class families.” At the time, he said he disagreed with Cain's vote for a state budget that he said extended tax cuts for the wealthy.  

While Baldacci hasn't made an announcement speech and didn't immediately return calls for comment, he debuted his "Baldacci for Congress" website  last week, providing a window into the kind of primary campaign he'll try to run.  

With the slogan "Maine Born. Maine Bred. Maine First," Baldacci takes a thinly veiled shot at Cain, who moved to the state to attend college.  

Democratic state Sen. Troy Jackson, who lost to Cain by more than 40 points in the 2014 primary, had been mulling a repeat bid this year but told CQ Roll Call on July 30, "that ship has sailed." He's leaning toward backing Baldacci over Cain, but Jackson, a Maine native, doesn't think attacking Cain for being "from away" is going to be helpful.  

It's an attack Poliquin has used against Cain, too. "She’s from New Jersey and Kentucky,” Poliquin told CQ Roll Call in May . “I’m from Maine. That makes a difference to the people of the 2nd District.”  

Poliquin, who worked in pension investment management before serving as Maine's treasurer, sits on the House Financial Services Committee. He, too, was born and raised in Maine, but worked elsewhere before returning to the state more than two decades ago.  

In a prominently placed statement on his website, Baldacci tries to carve out unique ground for his candidacy by hitting both Cain and Poliquin. "I am the only candidate who was born and lived his whole life in Maine. I am not a Wall Street Republican or a Washington Democrat," he says.  

Just days after Cain's November loss, national Democrats were recruiting her to run again , and she's since been back to Washington for a fundraiser with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján. EMILY's List, which backed her first congressional bid, is helping her again this cycle.  

Baldacci doesn't have those connections. What he does have is his last name. Before serving as governor, his brother held the same 2nd District seat. "His name will resonate with primary voters," a Democratic source in the state said. But having run district-wide before, Cain will enjoy higher name recognition, Brewer said.  

And although John Baldacci was a popular representative, Brewer added, there are "not a whole bunch of people looking back fondly on his two terms as governor."  

Multiple Democratic sources expressed concern that aside from Baldacci being an unpolished candidate, some of the clients he defended while he was an attorney, including a man charged with trading child pornography and a woman who murdered her husband , could provide Republicans with easy attacks, should he be the nominee.  

Relative to Poliquin, who impressed early , Cain is struggling to raise money. She's raising more than she was at this time during the 2014 cycle, but she brought in only $167,000 during the 2nd quarter, compared to Poliquin's $379,000, and has $238,000 in cash on hand compared to Poliquin's $947,000.  

One Democratic source in the Pine Tree State suggested a primary could actually help Cain, by shifting national attention away form the "enormous" discrepancy between her and Poliquin's fundraising.  

Meanwhile, Democrats in the state would like to see her do more than fundraise. "One of the criticisms folks have levied against her is she needs to be more active," the same Democratic source said. "Her whole campaign can’t just be sitting in a room making phone calls."  

In a statement emailed to CQ Roll Call on July 30, Cain campaign spokesman Sarah Russell said, "Emily welcomes Joe Baldacci to the race." Touting Cain's local endorsements, Russell continued, "Emily remains focused on defeating Congressman Poliquin and fighting for greater opportunities for Mainers across the Second Congressional District."  

Poliquin's campaign did not directly acknowledge the entrance of Baldacci into the race, choosing instead to lump him together with Cain. “His opponents are re-arranging the deck chairs in an attempt to run another false, negative campaign, fueled with extreme liberal special interest money, a negative strategy that failed just last year," Poliquin campaign consultant Brent Littlefield said in a statement on July 30.  

Baldacci had considered running last cycle, but never got in the race. Earlier this year, he commissioned an automated Public Policy Polling poll, releasing topline results to the Bangor Daily News  that showed him in a "statistical dead heat" with Poliquin.  

The working-class 2nd District, long represented by Democratic former Rep. Michael H. Michaud, who retired to run for governor, is more conservative than the state's 1st District, but President Barack Obama still carried it twice.  

Poliquin's team likes to point out that no sitting member of Congress has lost re-election to the district since 1916.  

But during a presidential year, and without the gubernatorial race or a bear-baiting referendum on the ballot, which drew more conservative voters to the polls last fall, 2016 is not going to be the same race as 2014, Brewer said.  

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