More than a week after voters went to the polls, the Maine secretary of state on Wednesday night declared state House Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden the winner of the Democratic nomination in the 2nd District.
Golden will now challenge two-term Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in November in a traditionally Democratic district that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.
Golden finished first in last week’s three-way primary with 47 percent of the vote, falling short of the majority needed to avoid a so-called instant runoff. Conservationist Lucas St. Clair was second with 39 percent.
Under Maine’s ranked-choice voting system, which was in use statewide and at the federal level for the first time last week, voters rank candidates in order of preference. With no one getting a majority, the third-place finisher, Islesboro bookstore owner Craig Olson, was eliminated and his votes were distributed to his supporters’ second choices. Golden then finished ahead of St. Clair, 54 percent to 46 percent.
Golden had raised the most money in the primary and had the backing of organized labor and local political leaders. He’s among several young veterans running for office who’ve been mentored by Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton.
Backed by End Citizens United, Golden made campaign finance an issue in his campaign. He used his closing TV ad to attack St. Clair, who benefited from outside spending from a nonprofit organization that did not have to disclose its donors.
A Leeds native who served with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, Golden later served as a committee staffer to Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins. He represents parts of Lewiston-Auburn, an old mill town on the Androscoggin River that makes up the major population center of the district.
Democrats held the 2nd District in northern Maine for 20 years before Poliquin flipped the open seat in 2014. Despite heavy spending against him, the Republican won by an even bigger margin in 2016, while Trump picked off an electoral vote from the district.
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For Democrats, this sprawling district will be a test of whether they can reconnect with white, working-class voters who have abandoned the party. They’re zeroing in on Poliquin’s vote for the GOP health care plan. With a native Mainer as their nominee, Democrats are optimistic about painting a compelling contrast with the incumbent, who left Maine to work in the financial industry before returning to run for office.
“As a United States Marine Corps veteran who answered the call after 9/11, Jared has stood tall in the Maine Legislature for the needs of veterans suffering from PTSD, and is now leading the way to make affordable health care accessible to more of his fellow Mainers,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement.
Republicans in Maine and Washington quickly tried tying Golden to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“Jared Golden is the Nancy Pelosi of Maine. He spent his time in the state legislature pushing a radical liberal agenda that included tax increases and a single-payer healthcare bill that would have bankrupted the state,” Chris Martin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement Wednesday night.
Golden starts the race at a big financial disadvantage. He finished the pre-primary period with $116,000 compared to Poliquin’s $2.4 million. No incumbent has lost the 2nd District since 1916.
But the race is already attracting lots of outside money. Outside groups spent more than $10 million in the district in 2016. The Democrat-aligned House Majority PAC has reserved $1.7 million in airtime and the Republican-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund has reserved $2.8 million for the fall.