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Domestic violence convict challenges female incumbent

Erick Bennett cited his conviction for domestic violence as an asset when announcing his campaign against Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.)
Erick Bennett cited his conviction for domestic violence as an asset when announcing his campaign against Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.)
Bangor Daily News

Being convicted of spousal abuse would ordinarily end a political career. For Maine’s Erick Bennett, though, it’s only inspired one to begin.

Formally declaring candidacy for U.S. Senate from his Portland campaign headquarters on December 30, Bennett claimed an earlier conviction for domestic violence was part of his inspiration, according to the Bangor Daily News.

In 2003, Bennett was convicted of a Class D assault charge against his wife, who’s since divorced him.

He contested, but a 2004 appeal before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court only confirmed the conviction.

Still claiming innocence at the recent announcement, Bennett told press that part of his decision to take on incumbent Sen. Susan Collins in 2014’s Republican primary was Collins’ support for domestic violence laws that aid battered spouses.

He could offer no examples of such legislation when asked, but his website lists Collins’ votes for the Violence Against Women Act as examples of the need to replace the incumbent.

Regarding VAWA’s 2002 reauthorization, Bennett’s site reads, “This is good for GLBT special interest groups and lawyers but bad for everyone else(.)”

Criticizing Collins’ vote for the program again in 2012, the site’s homepage reads, “(VAWA) is a bloated social services and welfare program.”

On another of the site’s pages, Bennett claims that VAWA affects 2nd Amendment rights, is abused by women who make false charges, overlooks males attacked by women, and is wrong for including protection of lesbians and bisexuals.

This opposition to VAWA, combined with his record of domestic violence, could indicate an affinity between Bennett and today’s Republican Party.

For example, the Violence Against Women Act was left to expire in January after the GOP-led House refused to vote on its reauthorization. In February, nine Republican senators initially blocked it from coming to the floor for vote in objection to VAWA’s inclusion of immigrants and LGBT victims. It was only reinstated on February 28 after House Republicans’ restrictive modifications to the Act failed.

And as Bennett stated at his recent press conference, “I’m pretty much just your typical Republican.”

Bennett even claimed his legal conviction indicated his capabilities to serve.

"The fact that I have been jailed repeatedly for not agreeing to admit to something I didn’t do should speak to the fact of how much guts and integrity I have. If I go to D.C., I’m going to have that same integrity in doing what I say, and saying what I do, when it comes to protecting people’s rights, as well as their pocketbooks.”

Maine’s GOP is quickly distancing itself from Bennett, even challenging his claims of political experience.

Bennett said he was paid staff of Gov. Paul LePage’s 2010 campaign, but state party executive director Jason Savage, who directed the campaign division Bennett claims he served, denies the claim.

Facing a questionable primary opponent doesn’t indicate any strength in the standing of incumbent Collins, however. First elected in 1996, her stances have frequently altered, and ratings from special interest groups have flip-flopped every year.

For example, in 1999 Collins received a 100-percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America and a 0 grade from the National Right to Life Committee. In 2012, though, she was rated 80 by Right to Life and 0 by NARAL.

Whoever wins the June 10 primary will have to continue campaigning for the following general election.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of Maine’s ACLU, announced her Democratic Party candidacy for the same U.S. Senate seat in November.

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