Fight for Maine’s 2nd District brings less money, fire this time around

By | October 18, 2020

LEWISTON — A contentious fight for Maine’s vast, mostly rural 2nd Congressional District broke state fundraising records in 2018, when the district played a pivotal role in the Democrats’ drive to take back the U.S. House of Representatives.

This time around, that’s not the case. Democratic Rep. Jared Golden’s first drive to retain his seat has attracted far less money, fewer television ads and less national attention than the election two years ago that sent him to the House. His Republican opponent, former state Rep. Dale Crafts, doesn’t think that means he can’t take back the seat for the GOP.

But the contrasts between the two races are stark. The 2018 race, which pitted Golden against incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin, generated more than $24 million in spending. This time around Golden leads the way with more than $4.2 million in campaign cash and Crafts has raised more than $380,000, according to campaign finance reports.

Golden, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, said he likes his chances for reelection because of his focus on constituent services, growing small businesses and supporting traditional rural Maine industries like forestry and lobster fishing. Crafts has positioned himself as a potential new ally for Republican President Trump, who won the district by more than 10 percentage points in 2016.

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The 2018 race between Golden and Poliquin had feisty moments, which Golden said he hopes to avoid this time around.

“We’ve tried to take the political temperature down a notch. Engage the other side in thoughtfulness,” Golden said. “We don’t care if you voted for us or not. We’ve focused on accessibility and transparency.”

Crafts has attempted to paint Golden as too liberal for the district, which is the far more conservative of Maine’s two congressional districts. He said Golden is beholden to the left wing of the Democratic party, and that could alienate the district’s many Trump fans.

“All over this district, the enthusiasm for Donald Trump is better than the enthusiasm for Paul LePage in 2010,” Crafts said, referring to Maine’s former Republican governor, another Trump ally. “I don’t care what the polls say.”

Those polls have Golden with a substantial lead in the race. That wasn’t the case in 2018, when Golden needed the benefit of ranked choice voting to unseat Poliquin.

The 2018 race was the first time ranked choice voting played a role in a Congressional election. It won’t play a role this time as there are no third-party candidates in the race.

The 2nd Congressional District is geographically the largest east of the Mississippi River and one of the 25 largest in the country. It’s home to two of Maine’s three largest cities, Lewiston and Bangor, but is mostly made up of rural towns and vast swaths of forested lands. It also includes some of the state’s most important fishing ports.

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In the 1st Congressional District, based in southern Maine, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree is all but assured reelection.

Golden’s race for reelection has defied the expectations of experts, who planned for another expensive battle, said Mark Brewer, a professor of political science at University of Maine. Incumbents are typically most vulnerable during their first reelection drive, but Golden’s status as a military veteran who supports gun rights and organized labor might give him advantages in the politically mixed district, he said.

“If the Democrats had to come up with an ideal candidate to run in this district, he’s a tough opponent for sure,” Brewer said.

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