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Political Brew: Primary takeaways, gun reform, and Jan. 6 hearings

Our analysts this week are former state senator and Yarmouth town councilor Phil Harriman and former state senator and mayor of Portland Ethan Strimling.

PORTLAND, Maine — The 2022 primaries are behind us, and the tickets are set for the fall.

It was no surprise that former Rep. Bruce Poliquin won the Republican primary to try to take back his old seat in the second district. But it raised a few eyebrows when little known and under-funded challenger Liz Caruso won 40 percent of the vote in that race.

"There's a message there for the Poliquin campaign that you'd better not look away from your base," Phil Harriman said. "They are curious as to what you are really going to do if you are elected."

Ethan Strimling said the surprisingly large vote for Caruso shows Poliquin "certainly has some mending of fences to do. That said, I expect Republicans are going to be in lockstep by the fall."

RELATED: Caruso concedes to Poliquin in Maine's CD2 primary

The CD-2 race is now a rematch of the 2018 election, with Poliquin taking on the incumbent Democratic Rep. Jared Golden and independent Tiffany Bond. Strimling thinks it is Golden's race to lose. He and Harriman agree it will come down to who motivates their base and draws enough unenrolled voters.

Another high-profile contest was the Democratic primary for Cumberland County District Attorney. Jackie Sartoris drew nearly two-thirds of the vote over the incumbent Jonathan Sahrbeck. Because there is no Republican in the race, Sartoris has a virtual lock on victory in the fall. She benefited from nearly $400,000 in PAC money from Democratic mega-donor George Soros.

"I think she won it on her own credentials, but obviously the money had an impact," Strimling said. "Until the Supreme Court changes the rules, until it decides money is not speech, this kind of money is going to come in."

Harriman calls it "local political science at its best" and said a "relatively small percentage of Cumberland County residents have now elected the new D.A."

RELATED: AP: Sartoris defeats Sahrbeck in Cumberland County DA primary

U.S. Sen. Angus King told NEWS CENTER Maine this week that time is of the essence if Congress is going to pass a compromise gun reform bill before lobbyists pick it apart. Both of our analysts agree with that assessment.

Harriman said it has become clear to him why mass shooters do what they do, and steps must be taken to address that.

But Strimling said it is also about the easy availability of "weapons of mass destruction."

"There's always been dysfunctional kids from tough families," he said. "When we were growing up, we would pull the fire alarm. Now you have access to an assault weapon, and that's what happens. This bill doesn't address some of the most significant reforms that need to be put in place around actual guns."

The Jan. 6 Committee held two more public hearings this week, the first making the case that former President Donald Trump was told by family and top advisers that there was no evidence to prove Trump's claims of a stolen election were true, but he kept repeating the claims, raising millions of dollars while doing so. The other focused on the pressure being put on former Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify Joe Biden's election.

Strimling said the evidence is compelling, and he thinks it's getting "tighter and tighter around Donald Trump's responsibility and culpability in what occurred." 

"It wasn't simply his words at one rally. It was the lead up to that, before the election, after the election, and what he was doing to people around him or trying to tell him the truth, and he refused to hear it," Strimling continued.

Harriman questions whether any minds are being changed by these hearings.

"The constitution was upheld. Mike Pence did not yield under all the pressure," Harriman said. "I'm eager to see what's in the next four hearings that they're going to present that shows us why Donald Trump should be indicted."

Our analysts also discuss the low voter turnout in the primaries and whether Maine should go back to holding them in September, the impact of a Democratic win in a special legislative election in Hancock County, and the shape of the race for governor.

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