One of the most closely watched races in the country is still being watched. That's because Maine's 2nd Congressional District is still up for grabs between incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin, who is seeking a third term, and Democrat Jared Golden of Lewiston.
By early Wednesday morning it appeared the contest, which also features two independents, will be decided by Maine's new, first-in-the-nation instant runoff system for congressional races known as ranked-choice voting. Late Wednesday afternoon, Maine's Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap confirmed that determining the results in the race will require the runoff.
Dunlap says that's because none of the four candidates in the race won at least 50 percent of the vote, though both Republican Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden came close, each garnering about 46 percent.
Dunlap says ballots in the 2nd District will be collected Thursday, and officials will begin processing them Friday in Augusta, beginning at 9 a.m.
Even so, Golden is optimistic and talking like he's bound for Washington.
It's been a costly and combative campaign with a barrage of negative television ads bashing the two leading candidates for weeks. At 65, Poliquin is a former state treasurer with a background in finance. Not quite 40, Golden is a state legislator and Marine Corps veteran. But you might not recognize either man from the messages heard on TV. There were more ads shown in the 2nd District than anywhere else in the country, in part because Poliquin was identified as being vulnerable to defeat as Democrats sought control of the U.S. House. Together political action committees and the campaigns spent nearly $20 million on the race, which has now come down to the wire.
Late in the evening Republican Bruce Poliquin addressed his supporters at Dysarts in Bangor.
"We're gonna monitor this very closely,” Poliquin said. “We're not gonna get a final result tonight. But you folks are terrific. We could not be where we're at without all these terrific volunteers. So I thank you all from the bottom of my heart but I came out tonight to say - go to bed."
Poliquin has previously left open the possibility that he might file a legal challenge if ranked-choice voting comes into play in the race. Late Tuesday night he again declined to address that question when asked about it by reporters. If no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, the ranked-choice system comes into play. In this race it will mean that supporters of trailing candidates — independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar — will have their second and third place choices redistributed to Poliquin and Golden, which makes predicting a winner difficult.
"I voted for Poliquin,” said Jeremy Perry of Milo. “That's it. I left the rest of it blank."
Perry didn't opt for a second or third candidate on his ballot. He said he’s not a big fan of the ranked-choice system and that hopes there aren't any glitches.
“I just hope it's done correctly,” he said. “But if he loses, you know, the people of Maine have spoken.”
At the Jared Golden campaign in Lewiston, a crowd of more than 150 erupted into cheers as they watched national returns on a big screen TV showing Democrats on the brink of recapturing a majority in the U.S. House. In Maine, beating an incumbent is an uphill battle, one that hasn't happened in Maine's 2nd congressional district in more than one hundred years. But speaking to his supporters, Golden sounded like he's poised to make history. Working people, he says, are hungry for someone who's going to fight for them. And he says he'll start by protecting and expanding access to health care.
"I'm not going to vote to take coverage away from you or to let insurance companies discriminate against sick Mainers, charge the elderly more for their care... I'm gonna continue this national movement to raise wages for working middle class people and oppose anymore tax giveaways for the wealthiest and most powerful in this country,” he said.
Golden said he was proud that his campaign didn't take any corporate money even though people told him that he could never win without it. He hasn't won yet but he says he likes the signs he's seeing.
Jennifer Mitchell contributed to this report.
This story was updated Nov. 7, 2018 at 4:55 p.m. ET.