Maine Rematch could be an indicator of congressional scrutiny

By PATRICK WHITTLE, Associated Press

AUBURN, Maine (AP) — Donald Trump isn’t on the ballot in Maine’s 2nd congressional district this year, but his political brand is.

In a race that will help decide control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic Representative Jared Golden will defend his seat against former Republican Representative Bruce Poliquin and independent candidate Tiffany Bond. The race is a rematch for Golden and Poliquin, who ran for the same seat in 2018, when Golden emerged victorious by a very slim margin.

The appeal of Trump-style politics has grown in the district since then, despite being represented by Golden, a moderate Democrat. Poliquin, who represented the 2nd District as a moderate Republican from 2014 to 2018, shifted his own message to the right to try to take advantage of these headwinds.

The result is a run that could be an indicator of Trump’s continued influence on swing districts and rural politics.

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Voters in the riding realize that. Mary Hunter, a retired Democrat and academic who lives in the city of Lewiston, thinks Golden is still the right candidate for the district. She said she voted for him in part because she feared the Democrats were losing control of Congress. And she’s aware that Trump still has a big influence on many voters in her district.

“Most people are kind of a red team or a blue team. I think Jared tries his best to get through the middle. He’s very centrist,” Hunter said. “Will that serve him, I don’t know.”

But in Auburn, a nearby town of about 23,000 in the 2nd District, Coastal Defense Firearms owner Rick LaChapelle said he plans to vote for Poliquin. LaChapelle, a Republican councilman from Lewiston, said he respects Golden but feels the Democratic Party has become too extreme.

“His party is too radical. He can’t overcome the strength of his party, so you have to switch parties,” LaChapelle said.

The district, one of two in Maine, includes the state’s second and third largest cities – Lewiston and Bangor – but is mostly made up of large rural areas of northern and western Maine. It also includes the state’s Down East coastline and is home to traditional Maine industries such as lobster fishing, logging, and potato and blueberry farming.

The district is also geographically the largest in the United States east of the Mississippi River, and it is much more politically mixed than the heavily Democratic 1st Congressional District in southern Maine. Trump won the 2nd District in 2016 and fared even better in the District in 2020, although he lost the statewide vote both times due to landslide margins in the 1st District. centered in liberal Portland.

Poliquin has focused his campaign on issues such as reducing immigration and protecting gun rights. This is a change from his previous campaigns, which focused more narrowly on controlling taxes and protecting rural jobs, though he continues to tout these issues. His website warned against liberals wanting to defund law enforcement and promote critical race theory in schools, and bragged about his work with Trump when he served in Congress.

“I came out of semi-retirement because our country and our state are in big trouble,” said Poliquin, who was once an investment manager and served two years as Maine’s state treasurer.

Golden, a Marine Corps veteran, has long positioned himself as a moderate who supports the 2nd Amendment and works to save industries such as commercial fishing and papermaking. He continues that approach this time around.

Golden has shown a willingness to thwart his own party over the years, including opposing President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan in August. His positions have sometimes earned him cross-endorsements from groups that often support Republicans, such as when he received support from the state’s largest police union in July.

The union has also backed former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who is running for his former position. Golden said he expects voters to reward him for standing up to Democratic Party leadership on issues like the nearly $2 trillion climate and health care bill. which the House passed in 2021. He voted against the bill. He then voted for the $740 billion cutback measure that was passed by Congress last month.

“In the past two years, I don’t know anyone who has been more independent and more willing to stand up to their own party than me,” Golden said. “I’m not trying to strategize ‘How do I retain Democratic voters or Trump voters? “”

The race will include the use of ranked voting, which Golden needed to win the seat in 2018. Bond, who came third in 2018, said independent voters in the race will be the ones to decide. She said she was focusing her campaign on issues such as improving access to healthcare and tackling climate change.

Bond said she expects ranked voting to play a role again this time around.

“I was the candidate who got all the votes that no party could,” she said.

The race will likely be much tighter than Golden’s 2020 re-election victory, said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine. Golden won that election handily over Republican Dale Crafts.

It will be closer this time in part because of the national backlash against Democrats on issues such as inflation, Brewer said. But it will also be closer simply because the 2nd District is unpredictable, he said.

“It’s the kind of district that has a lot of people that Trump appealed to in 2016. Relatively rural, largely white, working-class voters who have a sense of grievance, economic grievance,” said Brewer. “I don’t think there is any doubt that this race will be closer than Golden’s last race.”

The story has been corrected to show Golden voted for the $740 billion climate and health care bill that passed last month. He voted against a previous larger bill in 2021 called the Build Back Better Act.

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