ANALYSIS: Golden, Poliquin, Bond: Money, ads abound as CD 2 race offers sense of the familiar

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Candidates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District stand on the stage Sept. 27 at News Center Maine in Portland. From left are independent Tiffany Bond, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden and Republican former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald

Iconic Maine creatures, including lobsters and whales, have gotten serious face time in the more than 25,000 campaign ads for or against Maine’s 2nd District congressional candidates this season, but it’s a safe bet the ad creators don’t care nearly as much about right whales or lobsters as they do about which party will control the next Congress.

Out-of-state money is pouring into the race because control of the U.S. House may rest on its outcome since a narrow majority put the Democrats in control for the past two years. The GOP only needs to gain a few seats to take charge

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Maine U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in Lewiston last month. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

It’s no stretch to say the Maine race might be a squeaker given that its three contenders — Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston, Republican Bruce Poliquin of Orrington and independent Tiffany Bond of Portland — were each on the ballot in the 2018 contest when Golden unseated Poliquin in a cliffhanger.

This time, though, it’s Poliquin on the attack and Golden defending his record for the past two terms representing the largest district east of the Mississippi River and one of the most rural in the nation, where logging and lobstering are always among the big campaign issues.

Republicans see Poliquin, a 69-year-old retired investment expert, as one of the most likely challengers to capture a seat held by a Democrat. Democrats, naturally, hope Golden, 40, can hang on.

“We’ve got to make a change,” Poliquin has said repeatedly, citing the necessity of changing policies to combat inflation, reduce fuel prices and improve security along the nation’s southern border.

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Golden argues that his approach, which has put him at odds with his party’s leaders, is what’s needed on Capitol Hill, where he is a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that takes pride in reaching across party lines.

He was the only Democrat in the House to vote last year against the Build Back Better Act and President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief measure. He crossed party leaders again this year to vote against an assault weapons ban.

“No one has been a more fierce, independent voice for you,” Golden said during the campaign’s sole debate. “I have voted against the Biden administration more than any other Democrat in Congress. I have voted against my own party more than any other Democrat in Congress.”

Though Poliquin regularly scoffs at Golden’s declarations of independence, others have taken note of the incumbent’s efforts to cross the party line on major issues.

Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin speaks in March with someone outside the Maine State House in Augusta. Kennebec Journal file photo

Among the groups that endorsed Poliquin in 2018 but have taken no stand in this year’s race are the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, all of them typically wary of Democrats.

The Maine Credit Union League switched sides from backing Poliquin in 2018 to endorsing Golden this time around. And in a year when Republicans nationally are arguing that Democrats are soft on crime, both the Maine Association of Police and the Maine Fraternal Order of Police have also backed Golden.

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“If you don’t send people like Jared Golden back to Washington, we’re really going to have a problem, because we need the balance” that moderates like Golden provide, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said this fall. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Bond said Poliquin and Golden put politics ahead of policy. She said she would focus on legislation instead, aiming to bring an outsider’s viewpoint to the House.

She touts herself as both boring and reasonable, two qualities she said are rarely seen on Capitol Hill.

Most of the major election ratings aren’t picking a favorite in the race, including the Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Fox News and The Economist. But two see it leaning Golden’s way: CNN Politics and FiveThirtyEight.

Voters will get the final say at the polls Tuesday. Every Mainer who lives in the district, even if it’s in a tent in the woods or a jail cell, is eligible to vote.

RACE ATTRACTED BIG MONEY

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With most election experts touting the district as a toss-up, it’s no surprise that money is flowing into Maine to try to sway the outcome.

More than $15 million has poured into the race from outside groups such as the GOP-oriented Congressional Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democrats’ House Majority PAC.

In addition, Golden has raised $5.6 million for his campaign and Poliquin has taken in $3.5 million.

Tiffany Bond File photo

The Wesleyan Media Project reported Thursday that 24,607 television ads had already aired in the congressional race, the second highest tally among all the contests in the nation. Of those, 55% are meant to help Golden, the rest to boost Poliquin.

None of the ads touted or trashed Bond, whose campaign has been nearly invisible on television.

Bond, 46, who snagged 6% of the vote four years ago, raised less than $5,000 after telling supporters to give their money instead to projects to help Maine teachers or to buy something from Maine shopkeepers. She calls it #MaineRaising, an approach that’s found backing on Twitter but has left the family law attorney unknown to many voters.

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The Pan Atlantic Research Omnibus Poll, a respected Portland-based survey that gathered data from likely voters during the second week of October, found that Golden is viewed somewhat or very favorably by 52% of Mainers and two-thirds of independent voters, a key demographic for him.

Overall, it found that Golden led Poliquin by a 47-39 margin, with Bond trailing with 8%. Only 7% of likely voters were undecided. The poll carried a 3.5% margin of error.

A SurveyUSA poll released last week by the Bangor Daily News and Fair Vote found Golden ahead by a 43-40 margin, within its margin of error, and Bond trailing with 8%. But in the second round, it found Golden would win by a 54-46 margin over Poliquin, nearly the same outcome as the 2020 campaign.

But even the best polls only capture a moment in time. They cannot predict shifting moods in the electorate or how undecided voters will break in the final days of the campaign, something often driven by national trends.

It’s indicative of how close the race appears to insiders that so much money is flowing into the race from Super PACs and political party outlets which have access to reams of private polling data. They clearly see a district that’s up for grabs.

Maine Secretary of State

THE 2ND DISTRICT

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Democrats held the heavily blue-collar district for years until Poliquin snatched the seat away from them in 2014 after Democrat Mike Michaud stepped down for an unsuccessful bid to win the governor’s job.

Though voters in the independent-minded district twice backed Democrat Barack Obama for president, they went heavily for Republican Donald Trump in each of his presidential races.

Among the six counties in the district that backed both Obama and Trump were Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford. Only thinly populated Piscataquis County has been solidly Republican.

The 2nd District is one with deep pockets of poverty that has among the oldest population of any, especially outside the Sun Belt retirement communities, and has many military veterans.

Because of redistricting, the district is a smidgeon bigger than it was two years ago, with Augusta the main addition. The revised lines make the district a tad more Democratic than it was in 2020.

POLIQUIN WON THE PRIMARY

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Poliquin, who sat out the 2020 race to care for his ailing parents, leapt into the contest this year that initially included a few potential opponents. Most of them quit, including state Sen. Trey Steward of Presque Isle.

But one Republican opted to take on Poliquin: Liz Caruso, a town official in tiny Caratunk in western Maine. Running a campaign that took aim at weak borders and strong government, Caruso tapped Make America Great Again enthusiasts to wage a strong challenge for an underfunded and little-known contender.

But Maine Republicans clearly preferred Poliquin to Caruso, with Poliquin racking up three of every five votes cast in the primary.

That set up the three-way race with Poliquin, Bond and Golden.

THE BACKGROUNDS

After serving as a former aide to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, Golden served two terms in the State House, where he was majority whip for the Democrats. He won a primary in 2018 for the chance to take on Poliquin in the general election, which he won in the nation’s first ranked-choice federal election.

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He won his first congressional reelection bid in 2020 against Dale Crafts, a Lisbon Republican.

Poliquin worked as a pension investment expert and a businessman before running unsuccessfully for governor in 2010. He was appointed state treasurer, then lost a Republican primary bid to run for U.S. Senate in 2012.

In 2014, he won the 2nd District congressional race for an open seat in a three-way race that featured Democrat Emily Cain and independent Blaine Richardson, who got 11% of the vote. Two years later, he defeated Cain in a rematch.

All the candidates are college graduates. Poliquin got his degree at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Golden graduated from Bates College in Lewiston after returning from two combat tours as a U.S. Marine, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. Bond earned a degree at the University of Washington in Seattle then collected a master’s degree in business administration at Drexel University based in Philadelphia before graduating from the University of Maine School of Law in Portland a decade ago.

Each of the candidates has children. Bond and Golden are married. Poliquin is a widower after his first wife died, remarried and later divorced his second wife in 2009 after a six-year marriage, and remains single.

Both Poliquin, who lived in Oakland as a child, and Golden, who grew up in Leeds, are Maine natives. Bond, who served as a parks commissioner in a town near Seattle, moved to Maine to attend law school and opted to stay.

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Sample ballot for the 2nd District congressional race.

RANKED CHOICE IMPACT

In a ranked-choice race, a winner can only be immediately declared if someone secures more than 50% of the vote in the first round of counting. If all three contenders fall short, election overseers will take the ballots of whoever finished third and reallocate them to those voters’ second-choice picks.

Bond has argued she could come in second if independents combine with disgruntled Republicans and Democrats to support her.

Last week, for instance, she said voters who “lean more liberal and are frustrated with Golden” can “pretty darned safely mark me” as their No. 1 pick since the incumbent is certain to make the second round.

She said conservatives who “want Golden out” would be better off picking her than Poliquin because he “isn’t going to get you there” since he won’t win — while she could in a second-round showdown.

Political experts dismiss the notion as a pipe dream, especially in a race that has bombarded Maine with advertising focused entirely on Poliquin and Golden.

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Her voters, they say, may ultimately make the difference between the two front-runners, which could be good news for Golden.

The Pan Atlantic poll asked Bond voters in the ranked-choice race which of the other two they would be most likely to rank second. It found that 48% said Golden, 21% said Poliquin and 31% said they didn’t know. In 2018, they backed Golden by more than a 2-1 ratio.

Neither Golden nor Poliquin has made much effort to try to secure any backing from Bond voters even though they provided the margin of victory to Golden in 2018.

Daniel McGillicuddy Library of Congress

Poliquin almost always tells people to pick him as their first, second and third choices. Maine Republicans urge the same tactic, arguing it makes a voter’s intent clear should a ballot be challenged, a rare problem.

But last week, in an appearance on Portland’s WGAN radio, Poliquin adjusted his stance to ask Bond backers to “vote for me as your second choice.” A mailer from his campaign also asked anyone voting for Bond to “please vote for Bruce Poliquin as 2nd choice.”

All three of the candidates said they will accept the results of the voting, including the ranked choices.

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Four years ago, Poliquin became the first incumbent in the district to lose a reelection bid since 1916, when Democrat Daniel McGillicuddy, a three-term Lewiston lawyer, fell victim to a GOP surge at the polls.

Whether Golden can avoid McGillicuddy’s fate may not be clear until midmonth because of the extra time required to calculate any potential second-round voting in a ranked-choice contest. In 2018, it took nine days before officials declared Golden the victor.

In 2018, the Sun Journal ran detailed profiles of each of the three candidates. You can read them here:

Bruce Poliquin: Ignoring the ‘noise’ to help others

Tiffany Bond: A ‘regular person’ shunning ‘reality TV’ politics

Jared Golden: From combat to candidate for Congress


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