Democrats have landed a top recruit in a rural Maine district where candidate profiles matter — even more so than most places.
State House Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden, a Marine veteran, announced his candidacy for the 2nd District in Lewiston’s Kennedy Park Thursday morning.
He’s taking on two-term GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whom Democrats have spent millions trying to portray as a Wall Street guy who only returned to the state to seek political office. (Poliquin was born and raised in Maine.)
Golden attacked Poliquin’s vote for the GOP health care bill in his campaign launch, drawing an implicit contrast between the congressman’s vote and that of GOP Sen. Susan Collins, for whom Golden once worked in Washington, D.C.
Golden faces an uphill battle against the well-financed incumbent in a district President Donald Trump won last fall. But Democrats are excited about the native Mainer’s chances to connect with white, working-class voters who have moved away from the Democratic Party in recent years.
Golden, 35, grew up in Leeds, a town of just over 2,000 people in central Maine. He joined the Marines in 2002, serving combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Golden graduated from Bates College, also in the 2nd District, in 2011. After volunteering in Afghanistan, he went to work for Collins on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Elected to the state House in 2014, Golden was elected assistant majority leader in 2016. He represents part of Lewiston, an old mill town on the Androscoggin River that makes up the major population center of the 2nd District.
Democrats have made an effort to recruit veterans across the country in their quest to win a House majority in 2018. And Golden has been in close contact with Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who’s spearheaded that effort. Golden’s service in the Marines features prominently in his announcement video.
Shortly after announcing, Golden climbed in his truck on Thursday to embark on a four-day tour of the district, part of which will include “Jared on the Job” stints. He’ll work on a farm in northern Maine and haul lobster traps in Jonesport. Golden’s also attending house parties, where he’s hoping to hear from voters about where the Democratic Party has gone astray.
Golden refused to weigh in on the party’s leadership fights in D.C. Asked whether he’d support Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi if elected to Congress, he demurred.
“I honestly don’t think Mainers care that much about parlor games,” Golden said. “They’re focused on jobs, and I’ll support the leader who shows me that’s their priority.”
But Poliquin’s vote on health care, as well as his refusal to tell anyone how he was going to vote, Golden said “was just awful.”
Poliquin, 63, has earned plenty of negative headlines for dodging questions from reporters and constituents. But he’s twice overcome Democrats’ attempts to portray him as an out-of-touch businessman who doesn’t fit the 2nd District.
Poliquin’s team was quick to criticize Golden Thursday morning.
"Young Jared Golden looks good on the surface but diving deeper you find an extreme Augusta liberal politician," campaign adviser Brent Littlefield said in a statement.
"Golden has consistently voted against needed welfare reforms, he voted to support illegal immigration sanctuary cities, socialist bureaucratic healthcare, and Golden even earned a D rating from the NRA for opposing Maine’s sportsmen and 2nd Amendment rights," Littlefield added.
Democrats relished the attack on Golden’s age, taking it as a sign that Poliquin is nervous.
"I’d ask Brent what he was doing 15 years ago when I was fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq," Golden said.
As for his record on gun rights, Golden defended his support for background check legislation and said he recently voted for a bill that bans the creation of a gun registry in Maine.
"I’m a Marine Corps infantryman. I don’t think Brent Littlefield should question whether or not I’m comfortable with a rifle," Golden added.
The Maine GOP went after Golden’s announcement, saying "his statements are simply out-of-touch and not true." Executive Director Jason Savage defended Poliquin’s “fight against unfair trade deals” and the opioid epidemic.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2nd District race Likely Republican.
Democrats targeted this district heavily in 2016, when they recruited 2014 Democratic candidate Emily Cain for a rematch. Poliquin had defeated her by 5 points in 2014.
But Poliquin, a member of the Financial Services Committee, proved an impressive fundraiser for a freshman.
Meanwhile, Trump’s brand of populism went over well in the 2nd District, even among lifelong Democrats. President Barack Obama carried the district in 2008 and 2012. But Trump appealed to the same demographic that helped twice elected controversial Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Although Hillary Clinton won Maine, Trump won the 2nd District by 10 points, picking up one electoral vote.
Poliquin defeated Cain by 10 points that year. No incumbent has lost this district since 1916.
But the race could look different if Poliquin runs for governor. He hasn’t yet made a public announcement about running for re-election. But he’s continuing to raise money for his federal campaign account, which he couldn’t use for a gubernatorial bid. Poliquin ended the 2nd quarter with nearly $1.2 million.
Golden won’t have the race to himself. Democrat Tim Rich, a Bar Harbor restaurateur, announced his candidacy earlier this month and will be kicking off his campaign with a rally this weekend.
Former state Senate candidate Jonathan Fulford is also running for the Democratic nod. The owner of a Monroe construction business, he narrowly lost 2014 and 2016 races to state Senate President Michael Thibodeau. Dexter mail carrier Phil Cleaves and Islesboro bookseller Craig Olson are also running.
Golden didn’t sound concerned about the primary.
“I’m the first candidate, on day one of launch, who has Poliquin’s attack dog out,” Golden said. “That says something.”