Breaking down what Maine’s candidates and their allies want you to hear

Good morning from Augusta, where the ad wars are ramping up in Maine’s hotly contested races for governor and the 2nd Congressional District, which are likely to be the most interesting and expensive campaigns of this cycle.

In the 2nd District, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, and Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden are extending their fight on gun rights, while gubernatorial candidates are still working to define themselves — one with lots of help from outside interests.

Poliquin is selling voters on gun-rights groups’ poor assessment of Golden, while the Democrat dredged up an old clip of the incumbent. Poliquin, a second-term congressman, was boosted last week by an endorsement from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine — which aligns with the National Rifle Association on gun issues — that also sharply criticized Golden for not filling out a questionnaire or participating in an interview with the alliance’s board.

Golden, a Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, issued an ad last week that showed him target-shooting. This week, Poliquin was up on the radio with a minute-long ad portraying two Mainers discussing Golden’s record.

That ad hits him for a “failed NRA rating” (he got a 21 percent rating from the group in 2017) and labels Golden as “a radical, risky, Nancy Pelosi-style partisan” — a reference to the Democratic House minority leader and Republican bogeyman.

The Democrat is trying to fight with Poliquin on this turf, though. His campaign released a digital ad on Monday highlighting a video from a debate in the 2010 gubernatorial primary in which Poliquin is the only Republican to say “yes” after candidates are asked if they support mandatory background checks on gun purchases.

This has been an issue in past campaigns for Poliquin, but when he ran in 2014, he said in a Bangor Daily News op-ed that he never supported expanded background checks and he has been solidly supported by gun-rights groups since that campaign.

Golden has also benefited from another $623,000 in help to date from the With Honor Fund, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s a bipartisan super PAC that support veteran candidates and whose biggest funder to date has been Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Gubernatorial ads are sleepier so far, though outside Democratic interests are rushing to define their candidate. Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, and Republican businessman Shawn Moody haven’t begun to really go after each other in the race to replace the term-limited Gov. Paul LePage. ‘

Moody and Mills have been running biography spots, while independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes is also running a get-to-know-you ad and another justifying her independent candidacy — which Democrats have begun to openly worry about as something that could harm Mills.

The real money, however, is being spent by outside groups that have rushed into the race largely since just before Labor Day. Nearly $3 million in outside money has already flowed into state races since the primaries, with $2.6 million of that going into the governor’s race and the vast majority of it has been from Democratic interests.

That includes more than $1 million from a political committee funded by the Democratic Governor’s Association that has hit Moody on education and another $490,000 from Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that has done a broad range of short digital ads mostly touting Mills’ record on education.

Pingree pushes Medicaid expansion plan that LePage wants axed

A member of Maine’s congressional delegation has joined the fray on Medicaid expansion. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat seeking her sixth term representing Maine’s 1st District, sent a letter Monday urging federal officials to approve Maine’s plan to expand Medicaid coverage as allowed by the Affordable Care Act.

Since Maine voters approved expansion in November 2017, the process has bogged down amid State House and courthouse wrangling. LePage, a Republican, originally refused to submit a plan to the feds, as required by the citizen-initiated law, because he said lawmakers had not appropriated funding to implement expansion. After advocates for expansion won a court victory on that issue, he submitted a plan but urged federal regulators to reject it.

Pingree contradicted that request in her Monday letter, writing:

The choice to expand eligibility under the ACA is now the law in Maine. This past June, the Legislature voted to provide additional Medicaid funding in light of the expansion enactment, only to see this measure vetoed by the Governor. It is clear that the choice of Maine’s citizens to ensure that more low-income people have access to health coverage has been lawfully made, notwithstanding the political motivations of Maine’s Governor to the contrary. Accordingly, the Governor’s statement accompanying the SPA should be disregarded in its entirety.”

This saga still has many chapters, most of which will be written in courtrooms. And the task of determining how, whether and when to implement expansion will almost certainly fall to Maine’s next governor and Legislature.

Maine candidates face key financial deadline today

We’ll get an updated look at candidates’ books one week from today. Gubernatorial and legislative candidates are facing the key second-to-last fundraising deadline before Election Day today. By next Tuesday, they will have to report money raised and spent from July 18 through today to the Maine Ethics Commission. By the July deadline, Mills led Moody in overall money raised, but he had more money left.

Reading list

  • A vote on the next Supreme Court justice will be delayed as he and a woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her will testify under oath next week. The Senate Judiciary Committee had originally planned to vote this week on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the high court, but after details emerged Sunday about Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that he sexually assaulted her when they were high school students, the committee delayed the vote to allow Ford and Kavanaugh to testify next Monday. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, one of two Republican senators yet to have endorsed Kavanaugh, had earlier said that each should give sworn testimony to the committee.
  • A candidate for sheriff in Aroostook County said that a taxpayer-funded probe of his work as a police chief was designed to undermine his campaign. Presque Isle paid a Portland lawyer more than $10,000 to look into complaints against Matt Irwin, the former police chief who resigned on Sept. 4. Irwin, a Republican, did not respond to multiple requests for comment for the BDN’s story about the investigation, but he subsequently labeled the probe as a way to “appease a few detractors who have maliciously attempted to destroy [his] campaign.” Presque Isle City Manager Martin Puckett has refused to release the report outlining the investigation’s findings because it is confidential under Maine’s public-access laws.
  • The Nov. 6 general election will be more expensive than expected, and the people who get elected will have to come up with a way to cover those costs. Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap told Maine Public that ballots are being printed and election preparations are going forward, despite LePage’s veto of additional money needed to conduct the fall election. Dunlap said the practical impact of House Republicans’ vote to sustain the veto will be that vendors get paid late, with interest. The next governor and Legislature will likely have to address the funding shortfall.
  • Despite a maintenance backlog. Acadia National Park is on pace to break another record for visitors. The park has had a 2.3 percent uptick in the number of visits so far this year over what it had for the first eight months of 2017, when the previous record was set. according to a park spokeswoman. The total visitation estimate between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 is just shy of 2.4 million visits, while the total for the same dates a year ago was 2.34 million. The increased visitation comes despite Acadia’s $59.8 million maintenance backlog, which is drawing members of Maine’s congressional delegation, along with National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith, to Mount Desert Island to meet with Acadia officials and other local leaders and tour the park Thursday.

My spidey two cents

The plethora of squirrels — and their carcasses — in Maine roadways, fields, farms and orchards has drawn a lot of attention lately. But the onslaught of another S creature has caught my attention.

Spiders are out in full force. We’ve got them scurrying about in the dusty corners of our old house. And they are constructing elaborate webs and insect-catching devices on the deck furniture and all over the remains of the taller plants in our gardens.

The BDN’s Julia Bayly recently wrote about a Maine entomologist who said spiders make good roommates. That does not work for me. I can abide an occasional arachnid squatter in the dark recesses of places in our house where I rarely go, but I have a strict rule that any prospective roommate must have at least one leg — no snakes need apply — but no more than four.

While Bayly notes that all spiders indigenous to Maine are harmless, fear of the eight-legged varmints is very real. The highly unscientific poll that accompanies her report indicates that 81 percent of respondents fear spiders. The more scientific American Psychiatric Association notes that 40 percent of phobias are related to bugs, with the fear of spiders — known as arachnophobia — holding the top spot.

Our family is an outlier. As children, my siblings and I would conduct spider safaris in the rocky cellar of our old house, capturing hordes of eight-legged delicacies down there to feed to our pet lizards.

My wife — for whom Halloween is by far the best day of the year — actually seems to enjoy having spiders around the house. Both of my daughters could generally abide them, perhaps because they thought the sweet, fatty treats they gobbled up during orchard visits were “spider doughnuts.”

But a close friend who served in the U.S. Army and generally fears nothing else experiences panic attacks whenever he encounters spiders. Perhaps it’s because he stared down arachnids the size of VW bugs while serving in Panama.

In the grand scheme of things, I’ll take a spider over a squirrel. And definitely over a snake. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.