U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine | youtube, the commons

New England’s only two U.S. House Republicans face very different races

Four months before the 2016 elections, New England’s only two Republicans in the U.S. House face very different election prospects.

One has entered the summer in a fairly strong position while the other struggles to raise both money and his approval rating, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed last week, polling, and interviews with political observers in both states.

Two years ago, New England’s delegation to the House of Representatives was entirely Democratic. In the 2014 midterm elections, Maine and New Hampshire each sent a single Republican to the House. 

In Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, voters elected former state treasurer Bruce Poliquin, and in New Hampshire’s 1st District voters returned to office former Rep. Frank Guinta.


Poliquin, the first Republican elected in Maine’s 2nd District in 20 years, has raised a prodigious sum of money since taking office. He raised $702,000 in the first quarter of last year, coming within a few thousand dollars of breaking the fundraising record for a freshman member of Congress. Since January 2015, he has raised $2.6 million, and he ended the last quarter with $2.2 million in cash, FEC reports show.


His challenger, former Democratic state Sen. Emily Cain, has raised $1.7 million and finished the last quarter with $1.1 million in cash, according to her FEC reports. Cain’s campaign calls her “the best-funded Democratic House candidate in Maine history for this stage in the race” and points out that she has raised more than Poliquin in this calendar year.


Polling shows Poliquin in a dead heat with Cain, whom he beat by 5 points in 2014. But as an incumbent with twice as much money in the bank as his opponent, Poliquin is considered well-positioned for re-election, Maine political observers say.


“I would say between the money, the name recognition and the ability for him to prove he’s worked with Democrats and Republicans, it’s his to lose,” said Phil Harriman, a political analyst for Maine’s NBC affiliates.


Poliquin also faces Cain one-on-one this year. In 2014, conservative independent candidate Blaine Richardson took 10 percent of the vote.


In New Hampshire’s 1st District, Frank Guinta finds himself in a very different position. Since January 2015, Guinta has raised less than $1 million, according to his latest FEC report. In the last quarter, he raised only $115,195, less than half of the $231,775 raised by his primary opponent, Rich Ashooh. 


The Democratic candidate, former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, raised $207,229 in the last quarter, $92,000 more than Guinta, although she also has raised less than $1 million since last year. She finished the last quarter with $342,231 in cash versus $214,927 for Guinta.


Guinta has “always been kind of uneven in his fundraising,” Dean Spiliotes, political science professor at New England College, said. From his first race, Spiliotes said, “there were complaints he was not a strong fundraiser. It’s going to be a tough race.”


Guinta’s financial woes have been compounded by a campaign finance scandal that sent his individual donations tumbling. Last year, the FEC released a conciliation agreement, which Guinta’s attorney signed, stating that he illegally accepted $355,000 from his parents for his 2010 campaign.


A University of New Hampshire poll released on Monday found that “Frank Guinta remains unpopular, largely due to fallout from a settlement with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over campaign finance violations from his 2010 run for Congress.” Only a quarter of 1st District adults had a favorable opinion of Guinta, while 42 percent had an unfavorable opinion.


Shea-Porter enjoyed a significantly higher favorability rating than Guinta, with 40 percent of adults viewing her favorably and 37 percent viewing her unfavorably.


By contrast, a Portland Press-Herald poll in June found Poliquin to have a 33-percent favorable rating, three points higher than his challenger.


Reinforcing the sense that Poliquin is much better positioned than Guinta are the historical trends. No incumbent has lost an election in Maine’s 2nd District since 1962. 

But New Hampshire’s 1st District has flipped between Republican and Democrat in every election in the last decade and has seen the two parties trade the seat back and forth since the 1860s.