A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
It seems to have been a decent 2022 for U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who has led former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the scant public polls in the 2nd District back to the spring.
He has fought old battles to a tie, winning high marks from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the National Rifle Association and getting endorsed by a police group. Yet there are limits to a canny campaign.
Poliquin is trying to turn the race into a traditional Republican versus Democratic one in a district that went 12 percentage points harder than the national average for former President Donald Trump in 2020, seemingly thinking that locking down Republican voters in the district is what he needs. Recent Republican hits on Golden are dominated by his support for the Inflation Reduction Act.
Those clashes lead to a mix of bullish and bearish cases for the second-term representative. FiveThirtyEight has him slightly favored at a 64 percent chance of winning. If that were only based on polls, he would stand at 80 percent, but factors including fundraising and past voting patterns bring his chances way down. The Bangor Daily News’ election results partner, Decision Desk HQ, is more optimistic about Poliquin, giving him a 71 percent chance of winning.
One major reason for that is relatively simple, said Kiel Williams, Decision Desk’s senior data scientist. Right now, Republicans are leading the national congressional generic ballot by roughly 1 percentage point. In 2020, Democrats held the edge there by 7 points and Golden only won by 6 points.
It washes out to an 8-point gap between this cycle and the last one, putting Golden at a disadvantage right off the top in a district that only got marginally more friendly to Democrats in redistricting last year. Golden and Poliquin are in a ranked-choice voting rematch of their 2018 race with independent Tiffany Bond also on the ballot.
None of this should lead anyone to sleep on this race. One forecaster helpfully compares a 28 percent chance of winning an election to the odds of a blackjack dealer busting, something that is far less likely than the opposite outcome but happens plenty over the course of an evening of games. Think of all those games as the national map of House elections.
Even under FiveThirtyEight’s more pro-Golden look at the 2nd District election, this would be the 16th-closest House race on the map this November, confirming the seat’s status among the 30 or so toss-up elections out there. Expect this race to get hotter on the way to Election Day.