At the most recent candidate forum, hosted by the Associated General Contractors, candidates of both parties had an opportunity to try out their debate chops, and go on record on a number of issues.
(Editors note: this is an updated paragraph to clarify the description of the questioning section) One of the more interested parts of the forum was what was known as the “lightning round”. The rules for these questions were that you may only answer “yes” or “no”. Everyone had to answer every question. All of the questions were prepared by the moderators – no candidates got to ask any questions.
One such question has stirred up some trouble for one candidate – Republican Bruce Poliquin – “Do you support mandatory background checks on the purchase of a firearm?” The answers from the field were as follows:
- Pat McGowan – No
- Rosa Scarcelli- Yes
- John Richardson – No
- Libby Mitchell – No
- Steve Rowe – No
- Paul LePage- No
- Bill Beardsley- No
- Steve Abbott – No
- Matt Jacobson- No
- Bruce Poliquin – Yes
- Les Otten - No
- Peter Mills- No
- Eliot Cutler – Yes
Only Cutler, one Democrat – Rosa Scarcelli – and one Republican – Bruce Poliquin – answered that they would in fact be in favor of mandatory background checks for the purchase of firearms.
Guns are an interesting political wedge in the state of Maine. It is one of the backbone issues that has given credibility to Democrats in the second district (indeed, this was McGowan’s question), by separating their image from the more traditional limousine liberal appearance of Democrats in the first district.
So it comes as no surprise that the Democrats were just as opposed to mandatory background checks as the Republicans, who have universally hated the idea from day one, decrying it as a restriction on the second amendment.
Still, a Democrat or Independent is given a lot of leeway to answer yes to a question like this, because their electoral base is far more forgiving of somebody stepping out on that particular limb. I do not believe, for example, that either Scarcelli or Cutler will really be hurt by their answer to this question – either in the primary (for Scarcelli) or the general.
But in the case of Poliquin, this does in fact cause him significant trouble, particularly in the Republican primary.
Gun rights are a sacred cow to Republicans nationally, but in the state of Maine the issue is even more hyperbolic – again, due to the nature of the state. For many primary voters, being perceived as “anti-gun” is a litmus test issue that will immediately disqualify somebody. Poliquin, as the only Republican answering yes to this question, has exposed himself to that criticism.
If there was any doubt, note the reaction from the activists in the As Maine Goes forum. While not exactly representative of the entire electorate, it should at least give you an idea of how important this issue is to a lot of Maine Republican voters:
What an IDIOT…He might as well pack it in now…It is OVER for him….
I will not vote for him based on this.
Poliquin is one less candidate we need to concern ourself about in this HUGE field of hopefulls.
WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! — Showstopper!
Man, he’s dead to me before he ever got out of the gate!
Note to Mr. Poliquin: Nice going, Dumbass!
Unbelievable. There’s no hope for this state.
Get a certain talk show host fitted for a dress. Poliquin needs a fat lady to sing. As a gun owner, I won’t be voting for him.
I’d say I support him less now, but I was already at zero.
Game over man.
Stick a fork in him he is done.
It goes on and on and on [and on] from there. The reaction was immediate, and very negative. It should be noted there were a couple defensive comments made, but they were very weak, and immediately attacked.
Now, I tend not to cite As Maine Goes as a barometer of conservative grass roots opinion, because 9 times out of 10 it really isn’t – but in this case, I think it does show the general reaction of most Maine Republicans on this issue.
Poliquin’s answer to this question is not a surprise, however.
In December of 1989, Poliquin donated $500 to an organization known as “Handgun Control, Inc.”, which has since (June of 2001) morphed into the organization now known as The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
In its most simple terms, it and its predecessor organization advocate further gun regulation. So, given Poliquin’s previous support for this organization, it really doesn’t come as any surprise that he would answer yes to this question.
The organization’s mission is stated:
“…to reform the gun industry by enacting and enforcing sensible regulations to reduce gun violence, including regulations governing the gun industry. In addition, we educate the public about gun violence through litigation, grassroots mobilization, and outreach to affected communities.”
Additionally, the Brady Campaign’s website states the following:
“As the largest national, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence, the Brady Campaign, the Million Mom March and the Brady Center are dedicated to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in their communities. The Brady Campaign, the Million Mom March and the Brady Center believe that a safer America can be achieved without banning all guns.”
Though the growth of the organization over the years has undoubtedly lead to a modification of goals and strategies, it should be noted that in 1976, Pete Shields, the founder of what was then Handgun Control, Inc. stated the overall strategy for his organization, and the gun control movement in general:
We’re going to have to take one step at a time, and the first step is necessarily — given the political realities — going to be very modest. . . . [W]e’ll have to start working again to strengthen that law, and then again to strengthen the next law, and maybe again and again. Right now, though, we’d be satisfied not with half a loaf but with a slice. Our ultimate goal — total control of handguns in the United States — is going to take time. . . . The first problem is to slow down the number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. The final problem is to make possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition-except for the military, police, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors-totally illegal.
I imagine the rancor caused by Poliquin’s statement at this candidate forum will not be helped by his donation to this organization twenty years ago, especially given the strategy outlined above.
Still, it was twenty years ago, and I myself spent some rather considerable time blasting “guilt by association”. I, for one, do not believe that Bruce Poliquin really has any active interest in banning all handguns simply because he donated to an organization that apparently did.
That, of course, does not change the fact that many voters will still find the donation objectionable.
Poliquin’s campaign gave me a statement on the issue in response to this most recent storm of criticism. The following statement is from Bruce Poliquin:
“I think our campaign just takes it in stride, knowing that everyday we’re out growing the grassroots, communicating our message, and doing the things it takes to win the support of voters. Some campaigns look at our early success and see that we are going to be very competitive. It’s natural to target someone who’s out in front. They’ll take words out of context, push conspiracy theories, and try to mislead others about your positions. I think we’re prepared for that and we’re going to continue to run our race. This campaign will be about who has the experience and background to best manage the problems Maine’s economy faces. I have been dealing with these financial issues my entire professional life. It has caused us to receive a lot of early attention – both good and bad, apparently.”
So, is this a big deal?
I leave that to the reader, and the voter.
It should be noted that this is hardly the only conservative plank that sees a candidate standing out of step with the primary voters. There are pro-choice Republicans running, a pro-tax form Republican, some have expressed support for (or voted for) gay marriage, and there are a host of other issues that see divergence.
Still, this is the topic we are talking about right now, and I think it is an issue which could be damning to the Poliquin campaign, especially in the second district, where (especially among Republican primary voters) guns are sacred, and restrictions upon them are fought tooth and nail.
Here is the raw video of the question and answers, for any who may want to watch: