- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 10, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Liberal consensus-builder Emily Cain and conservative firebrand Bruce Poliquin won their parties’ primaries on Tuesday for the open congressional seat in Maine’s massive rural district, which the GOP hopes to wrest away from Democrats for the first time in two decades.

Cain easily defeated Troy Jackson, a logger from Allagash, to win the Democratic nomination for the 2nd Congressional District. On the GOP ticket, Poliquin beat establishment Republican and former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, Kevin Raye.

While the Democrats’ pick says she will work across the aisle in Washington, Republicans are putting their hope in a conservative who has pledged to fight for GOP values, like smaller government and lower taxes.

Cain, a state senator who also works for the honors college at the University of Maine, campaigned on her experience writing budgets in Augusta and her touted her ability to stay at the negotiating table to deliver results.

She said Tuesday that her victory reflects the frustration that residents across the state have about the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington.

“It just reinforces the importance of sending someone to Washington who knows how to bring people together,” she said in an interview.

While in the Senate with Cain, Jackson was often at the center of battles between Democrats and GOP Gov. Paul LePage. He tried to paint his opponent as a Republican and criticized her for being one of the few liberal lawmakers to work well with the conservative governor.

But Cain significantly out-fundraised Jackson and was backed by powerful groups like EMILY’s List, which supports abortion-rights candidates, and the League of Conservation Voters, which pumped $150,000 into a mailer campaign to defeat her opponent.

Jackson’s campaign said he will now urge his supporters to back Cain in November to ensure that the district remains Democratically controlled. Jackson spokesman Al Brewer said he “poured his heart and soul” into the race, which was underfunded and had to rely heavily on volunteers.

Cain was winning 72 percent to 27 percent with 328 out of 422 precincts reporting in unofficial returns. Poliquin was up 56 percent to 44 percent over Raye with the same number of precincts reporting.

Throughout the bitter battle for the GOP nomination, Poliquin, a tea-party favorite, called Raye a “liberal,” and attacked him for not signing a no-tax pledge. The Harvard-educated businessman and former state Treasurer also campaigned heavily on his opposition to abortion rights, which Raye has supported.

In Bangor on Tuesday, Poliquin told supporters he was running to help his son Sam and other twentysomethings, describing “a horrible business climate in the 2nd District and throughout Maine.”

He said 2nd District voters want someone to help.

“They want someone who’ll go down to Washington and fight for their interests and not become part of the mess. And I will do that,” he told supporters.

Like Cain, Raye said his opponent’s “my-way-or-the-highway” approach would only continue the political gridlock in Washington.

He also questioned Poliquin’s decision to move a home in the 2nd District instead of staying in the 1st District to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

He told supporters on Tuesday that he was disappointed.

“I know from having been through this before, having won and having lost, that life goes on,” he said. “It’s clear that this campaign for Congress will end here tonight.” Raye lost to Rep. Mike Michaud in the general election for the seat in 2002 and again in 2012.

The departure of Michaud, who’s leaving to run against LePage for governor after three terms in Congress, gives the GOP a chance to reclaim the seat that Democrats have held for nearly 20 years.

The largely rural district, which covers most of Maine except for the southern coast, is often considered to be the more conservative part of the state, but voters are known to split votes between parties.

Poliquin is coming off of two defeats, having lost in the 2010 primary for Maine governor and the 2012 primary to fill the U.S. Senate seat that now belongs to independent Angus King.

Raye and Cain will be joined on the ballot by Blaine Richardson, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former Republican who’s running as an independent.

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Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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