What the last debates between Jared Golden and Bruce Poliquin tell us about 2022

Gun Rights

It was 2018: President Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage were in office, most Americans had never worn a face mask and abortion rights were settled law.

The election was historic. It was the first federal one in U.S. history decided by ranked-choice voting, resulting in Democrat Jared Golden unseating incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

As we prepare for what is expected to be the first and only debate between Golden, Poliquin and independent Tiffany Bond at 7 p.m. Tuesday on News Center Maine, we took a look at some of the key debate themes from 2018 and how some will carry through to this election.

Economy

While inflation has been one of the main themes of 2022, it was not a problem in 2018, and it feels dated to watch the candidates talk about the economy of that era.

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“The economy is doing great,” Poliquin said in the first debate. “We have the lowest unemployment rate in Maine since, I think, the 1950s.”

Golden was a little less optimistic, saying that Maine’s economy was not doing very well. Unemployment was low, but so were wages, he said.

It is clear to see why Poliquin, a Republican, would want to praise an economy under Trump and united Republican control of Congress, or how Golden may be more critical with both Trump and LePage in office.

Running as much against President Joe Biden as Golden while trying to tie the two together, Poliquin has built a larger part of his campaign around costs and inflation, campaigning with LePage in May at a Bangor gas station.

Golden has been no full-throated defender of Biden’s economic record, placing the American Rescue Plan, which he opposed last year, as one the factors behind record-high inflation. But he recently voted for his party’s Inflation Reduction Act, something now showing up in his TV ads and those against him.

Abortion

Abortion is mentioned in neither debate, hardly surprising given that it came out during a time when Roe v. Wade was considered settled law. The Supreme Court ended federal abortion rights in June. Golden is pro-abortion rights, while Poliquin is anti-abortion and voted for a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in 2015.

But the Republican has softened his stance since the June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to end federal abortion rights, answering an anti-abortion group’s survey by saying Congress should allow states to decide their own abortion laws.

Guns

There was a lot for the candidates to argue about on guns. Both the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine endorsed Poliquin, due in large part to his staunch support for their issues and Golden’s mixed record in the Maine Legislature.

At that time, Poliquin noted Golden’s then-D grade from the NRA. Golden said that he wanted to prevent “a limited number of bad actors” from owning firearms.

In Congress, Golden has voted against his party’s signature background check expansions and a ban on semi-automatic firearms, but recently voted for a bipartisan gun, mental health and school safety bill opposed by Poliquin and the NRA but backed by the Maine alliance.

This year, the NRA refused to endorse in the race, giving Poliquin an A grade and Golden a B. The sportsman’s alliance ranked Golden slightly higher than Poliquin on its issues.

Immigration

Concerns over illegal immigration continue. Poliquin went to the southern border early this year and emphasizes fentanyl coming across the southern border and eventually Maine. It has been more pronounced than Poliquin was in 2018, but it was a theme then.

“I’ve been very strong on border security to make sure we stop the flow of the deadly poisonous heroin that’s coming into our country,” Poliquin said then.

Golden’s concerns were more economy-based, emphasizing how cheap immigrant labor can depress the wages of citizens.

“Too often, we have a system that drives down those wages by using visa programs,” Golden said.

Expect Poliquin to hit this subject more, although Golden is among the more conservative Democrats on immigration, introducing a bill this year to prevent Biden from lifting immigration restrictions without a plan to address predicted increases in border crossings.

Medicare and Social Security

While in office, Poliquin said he would support no changes to the Social Security or Medicare for current enrollees or people soon to be in the system while being open to hikes in the eligibility age. He backed a 2015 Republican plan targeting billions in Social Security savings that would have turned Medicare into a voucher system for new enrollees years down the line.

Preserving the programs was one of Golden’s major campaign themes. For emphasis, and perhaps aware that an attack might be coming, Poliquin held up his mother’s Medicare card in a debate.

Democrats are putting money behind a similar line of attack this time as well. Poliquin may take a similar line in the graying 2nd District.

Trump

As part of a theme during his 2018 campaign, Poliquin changed the subject in debates when asked about Trump, declining to say who he voted for in 2016 by saying it was “my business.” The former president won the 2nd District two years earlier and he won it again in 2020.

Poliquin has drifted closer to Trump since then, refusing to say in March whether Biden legitimately won the election. After he issued a statement condemning last month’s raid on Trump’s Florida home, he backed off a call for an investigation of the FBI. He has also condemned Golden’s 2019 vote to impeach Trump, though the congressman was the only member of Congress to split his votes on two of his party’s articles that year.

In 2018, Golden wished he had “other options” but voted for Democratic Hillary Clinton over Trump. He also backed Biden in 2020.

While he has not openly antagonized Trump like most Democrats, he voted to impeach him over his role in the Capitol riots of Jan. 6, 2021, and said Trump “clearly” should not have had classified documents in Florida. Recent events could bring Trump back into debates.

Attacks

Poliquin’s main attack in 2018 was almost identical to what he says today: that Golden paints himself a moderate but is generally in line with fellow Democrats.

“Jared is a young radical with a socialist agenda,” Poliquin said multiple times in the first debate.

That clearly got under the skin of Golden, a Marine veteran who accused Poliquin of lying and calling him anti-American.

“Folks back home, I hope that you’re tired of hearing your congressman issue nothing but attack after attack,” Golden said in the second debate.

Back in 2018, when Poliquin went to shake Golden’s hand after the debate ended, the future congressman refused.

While the race so far has remained relatively tame, it could grow more critical in the coming weeks, especially given that the two already have a history of being opponents.

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