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Trump and Bolton waging proxy war in Maine GOP congressional primary

Former national security adviser John Bolton and his newfound opposition to President Trump have become a campaign issue in the Republican primary in Maine’s Democratic-controlled 2nd Congressional District, a top GOP target this fall.

“John Bolton lies about President Trump, and now, his henchmen are doing the exact same thing to Trump conservative Eric Brakey,” says a new ad from the Protect Freedom PAC. “They’re scared of Brakey because they know he will stand with Trump, fight to drain the swamp, and advance an America First agenda.” The group’s spokesman, Michael Biundo, urged Maine Republican voters to “ignore the Bolton lies.”

The television spot comes after a new super PAC called the American Policy Fund spent $61,000 on mailings opposing Brakey, a former state senator, in a district where fewer than 35,000 people voted in the competitive 2014 GOP primary that pitted Maine’s state senate president against a former state treasurer. The super PAC’s treasurer, Republican operative Cabell Hobbs, has also served as treasurer of the John Bolton PAC and the John Bolton super PAC. Its financing need not be disclosed until after the primary is over.

The race is also a contest between libertarian-leaning conservatives aligned with Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a Brakey ally, and those holding foreign policy views closer to Bolton’s. But it may also test the continued influence of the Bolton name with the Republican base after his break with Trump, even if the former national security adviser and the president themselves remain on the sidelines.

Trump has not endorsed anyone in the primary, according to his reelection campaign, but he looms large in the race. He carried the district by 10 points in 2016, good for one of the state’s electoral votes, and multiple candidates are trying to position themselves as reliable Trump supporters. Former state Rep. Dale Crafts and former Gov. Paul LePage press secretary Adrienne Bennett are also running.

Bolton split with Trump after his departure from the administration, most dramatically with his recent tell-all book The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir. He claims Trump is not competent to serve as president and that he compromised national security to further political goals, including asking for Chinese concessions to help win reelection. Bolton does still support Republican retention of the Senate.

The former national security adviser has a long history in GOP politics, including raising money for candidates, and was a staple of the conservative speaking circuit before his break with Trump. A veteran Republican strategist called Bolton’s book “fodder for the Never Trumpers and nothing more.”

Trump said he fired Bolton for giving him bad foreign policy advice that would have led the United States into war.

This message has been amplified by other members of Trump’s team. “He’s a warmonger,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany of Bolton in an interview with Fox News. “He’s someone who would have had us at war with North Korea and with Iran if it was up to him.”

The Maine congressional seat is currently held by freshman Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, who only narrowly won in 2018. It is viewed as one of the Republican Party’s best House pickup opportunities in a challenging election year.

The Club for Growth super PAC and the National Association for Gun Rights PAC spent money on behalf of Brakey prior to the American Policy Fund intervening against him. That’s when Protect Freedom PAC dropped its own 30-second ad making the Bolton connection. A spokesperson for Bolton’s own PAC did not respond to a request for comment.

The primary for Maine’s 2nd District takes place on July 14.

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