Bruce Poliquin has a big problem.
I mean aside from his problems of being arrogant and slippery with the facts and sporting the same deep roots in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District as the average summer tourist from Massachusetts.
What Poliquin, who won last week’s Republican primary for the US House seat representing northern and western Maine, has is an ideological problem. He now has to decide just how far to the right he can position himself without alienating the moderately conservative, mainstream voters who will decide the November election.
Under ordinary circumstances, this would be no big deal. Given that his opponent, Democrat Emily Cain, is an avowed liberal, all Poliquin would normally have to do is slide slightly to his left (so he looks less “TEA PARTY” and more “tea party”) to make himself more appealing to the all-important center. He wouldn’t really have to change any of his positions on issues, such as background checks for all gun buyers (which he used to support before he didn’t). He’d just have to shift his emphasis, so that when he’s asked about stuff like abortion, he can say something to the effect of how he’s certainly pro-life, but that won’t be his main focus in Washington, where he’ll be all about improving the economy and creating jobs.
In other words, the usual blah, blah, blah.
Trouble is, this year, that might not work.
That’s because the 2nd District race isn’t just a face-off between Poliquin and Cain. There’s also an independent in the mix, Blaine Richardson of Belfast.
You may never have heard of this guy, but don’t assume he’s a complete unknown. Richardson ran for Congress in the 2nd District two years ago as a Republican. In the GOP primary against Kevin Raye, then the president of the Maine Senate, he got a surprising 40 percent of the vote, even though he had no money and no name recognition. What he did have was a populist message with appeal to the anti-establishment crowd on both ends of the political spectrum.
If Richardson were simply a right-wing extremist, Poliquin wouldn’t have all that much difficulty dealing with him. In fact, he could use the independent as a prop to make himself look more acceptable to voters wary of radicals of any stripe. Poliquin would employ Richardson as a counterbalance to show that while he was far more conservative than Cain, he was somewhat to the left of Richardson. Kind of a moderate. Maybe. Sorta.
In that scenario, Poliquin might sacrifice a few fringe votes, but he’d stand to gain far more support from the middle of the spectrum.
Unfortunately for Poliquin, Richardson’s ardently constitutionalist platform makes him tough to characterize. He’s socially conservative (he favors a moratorium on all immigration and opposes any form of amnesty) and fiscally tightfisted (he’d repeal the Affordable Care Act), but intersects with many civil libertarians on such issues as getting rid of the Patriot Act and allowing small farms to escape federal regulation (“[I]t’s time to allow the hard working farmers of Maine to exercise their God-given rights to buy, sell, and produce what they want without the interference of government”). Like current Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud, Richardson opposes free trade agreements. Like lots of Democrats (and more than a few Republicans), he opposes anything that could be construed as “corporate welfare.”