Sept. 21: The Fierce Battle For Maine's 2nd District Seat

Sep 24, 2018

It’s geographically vast and rural.  It was held by Democrats for nearly 20 years and most recently by a Republican. But now, it’s been identified as a seat that’s up for grabs. This week on Maine’s Political Pulse, we’re talking about Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Sharing their insights on that four-way race are Maine Public political reporters Steve Mistler and Mal Leary.  They spoke with Maine Public’s Deputy News Director Susan Sharon.

SUSAN SHARON: Hello.

LEARY: Hello.

Steve let's start with you. There are millions of dollars being spent on this race by outside groups, mostly. So far most of it appears to be going to Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin. Who's paying for that seat, and how expensive is this race likely to get?

MISTLER: Let's just talk about who's been spending money, and this money being spent has been spent since early August. So, on the pro-Golden side you have the With Honor fund, which is backed by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and some of his family members, who have spent over $620,000 so far. The Patriot Majority USA PAC, which is a union-backed PAC, has spent close to $600,000. The D Triple C - or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee - is also spending money here, and the House Majority PAC, which is Nancy Pelosi’s political committee, is also going to spend at least $1 million here, if not more. On Poliquin’s side, you have the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is Paul Ryan's PAC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running really fluffy ads touting Bruce Poliquin’s record in Congress. America First Action, which is a pro-Trump-backed PAC, which is interesting in and of itself because we don't even know if Bruce Poliquin even voted for President Trump - they're spending money on his behalf. And the National Rifle Association - they haven't got involved yet. But I would expect that they will.

And the reason for all this money being spent, we might add, is that this race has been identified - at least on the Democratic side - as being vulnerable. It could be flipped.

MISTLER That's right. I think traditionally a purple district - Democrats held it for 20 years. But it's also very friendly to incumbents, which is good news for Bruce Poliquin.

All right. Mal, so let's boil down some of the main themes of these ads. This is where we're seeing all the money spent - if you live in the 2nd District, you can't turn on the TV without seeing them, for weeks now. How are the candidates trying to portray themselves and each other?

LEARY: So you've got Bruce Poliquin, who's trying to portray Jared Golden as too radical to serve.

Audio from political ad: “Golden voted repeatedly to raise taxes and voted to let welfare recipients use your tax dollars to buy tattoos.”

LEARY: You've got Jared Golden trying to portray Bruce Poliquin as out of touch with the district.

Audio from political ad: “Poliquin voted to gut protections for preexisting conditions and supported cutting $700 billion from Medicare.”

LEARY: While at the same time they both are running positive ads trying to bolster their own image. You know, when you start seeing negative ads right out of the gate in a campaign, that tells me it's a lot closer race than either side is willing to admit, because you don't start trying to paint the other guy as the bad guy until you've actually got yourself known. There will be new voters coming on board, there will be people that have moved into the 2nd District. They don't know who Bruce Poliquin is - he's got to reintroduce himself to those voters. And, of course, Jared Golden is someone that's not well-known outside of Lewiston, where he represents one of the districts in the Legislature. He's got to get that message out

MISTLER:  To build off what Mal is saying, if you look at the most recent poll that we saw, you have Poliquin underwater, in terms of favorability. And then you have Golden, where a third of the people that responded to that poll, which is a New York Times-Siena College survey, they don't know who he is. And that gives outside groups the chance to define who he is for voters. That's why we're seeing these types of ads right now.

What about the effect of the two independents in the race? How are they going to play out here?

LEARY: The reality here, Susan, is that the poll that we were just talking about has one glaring problem:  It never polls the two independents. Another independent poll that was released earlier this summer did, and had them both in the very small single digits. For the first time in Maine history, candidates for Congress have to face ranked-choice voting. Let's take the scenario where Bruce Poliquin gets 45 percent on Election Day - then there's going to be the imposition of ranked-choice voting. Where do those voters for Tiffany Bond or Will Hoar go? So leaving out that dynamic that we have from ranked-choice voting really brings some of these polling numbers into question.

So history would show in Maine that the 2nd District race traditionally goes to the incumbent, is that right?

MISTLER: Yeah. I mean, in fact, the last incumbent to lose this seat was Daniel McGillicuddy - as far as I know, no relation to Dr. McGillicuddy, who's given us the fine liqueurs of butterscotch rum or whatever. That seat has not been lost since 1916.

All right, Mal Leary and Steve Mistler, thanks so much for taking Maine's political pulse this week. We’ll join you again next week.

MISTLER: My pleasure.

LEARY: Thank you.

Originally published Sept. 21, 2018 at 8:57 a.m. ET.