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In race for Maine's 2nd District, Mike Soboleski touts business credentials

Mike Soboleski, right, speaks with James and Jamie Robinson at A.E. Robinson Oil Company in Dover-Foxcroft while stopping by several businesses as part of his campaign for Maine's 2nd Congressional District. A state lawmaker from Phillips, Soboleski is one of two candidates in the Republican primary on June 11, 2024.
Kevin Miller
/
Maine Public
Mike Soboleski, right, speaks with James and Jamie Robinson at A.E. Robinson Oil Company in Dover-Foxcroft while stopping by several businesses as part of his campaign for Maine's 2nd Congressional District. A state lawmaker from Phillips, Soboleski is one of two candidates in the Republican primary on June 11, 2024.

It's lunchtime in the blue collar town of Guilford as about a dozen supporters of Mike Soboleski gathered in the restaurant of the Red Maple Inn.

Two giant renderings of the American flag — one on the ceiling and another dominating a wall — served as the backdrop for what Soboleski said was a "big announcement" from owner Paul Zimmerman.

"As you look around you can see that I am very much veteran-oriented," Zimmerman, who goes by PZ, told the crowd of current and former lawmakers, campaign helpers and other supporters. "Today is the day that I endorse Mike Soboleski."

The other candidate in the Republican primary for Maine's 2nd Congressional District, former NASCAR driver Austin Theriault, had already been on TV for a week with ads touting his endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

But for Soboleski, endorsement events like this one in rural Piscataquis County were aimed to convey a groundswell of local support in Maine’s sprawling 2nd District. Stepping outside to talk, the 67-year-old Marine Corps veteran exuded confidence despite Theriault's significant fundraising advantage and backing by Trump and other national Republican leaders.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "We're gaining momentum every day. We've been doing great, but we are still gaining momentum every day. The money is not the deciding factor here. Dollar bills don't vote. People vote."

Mike Soboleski, left, poses with Martha Ward and Paul Zimmerman at the Red Maple Inn in Guilford during an endorsement event. A state lawmaker from Phillips, Soboleski is one of two candidates in the Republican primary on June 11, 2024, for Maine's 2nd Congressional District.
Kevin Miller
/
Maine Public
Mike Soboleski, left, poses with Martha Ward and Paul Zimmerman at the Red Maple Inn in Guilford during an endorsement event. A state lawmaker from Phillips, Soboleski is one of two candidates in the Republican primary on June 11, 2024, for Maine's 2nd Congressional District.

Republicans in Maine's 2nd Congressional District will decide next Tuesday who should challenge Democratic incumbent Jared Golden this November in a race that is expected to draw national attention and money given its history as a swing district. Golden is a three-term moderate who has opposed President Joe Biden's agenda more than any other Democrat in the House, but who has also frustrated some Republican voters with other votes.

Both candidates in the GOP primary are first-term freshman legislators in the Maine House, with Soboleski representing western Maine and Theriault the northernmost area of the state. They have both campaigned on issues like the economy, inflation, government spending and securing the border.

The age gap between them is more than 30 years. But while Theriault talks about his experience both on the track and running racing-related businesses, Soboleski said he has decades of experiences in business.

"Recruiting racecar drivers, yeah that's nice," he said in an interview. "But when you actually start getting into multiple businesses with multiple payrolls and multiple issues, that's a completely different animal."

Soboleski is no stranger to cameras or microphones after working as an actor in New York City for more than a decade. He claims credits in more than 50 television series, including dozens of episodes of Law & Order SVU.

He also had bit parts — often as a police officer — in major movies such as National Treasure, The Departed and when he fruitlessly tried to clear street crowds as aliens emerged from the ground in Tom Cruise's 2005 version of War of the Worlds. 

"I'd do precision driving, stunt driving, stunts, background work, weapons — I fired more weapons than I can count," Soboleski said. But he also said he realized he'd likely never be more than a "mid-level type actor."

"I could do OK. I could still be there today," he said. "But I couldn't get to that star level so I decided to retire and come back home to Maine. I didn't want to grow old in New York City."

Before acting, Soboleski spent two years in the Marine Corps after graduating from Gardiner High School in the mid-1970s. He operated several businesses in Augusta, including a gym and a restaurant, and worked at Sugarloaf. Most recently, Soboleski helped coordinate Maine field operations for the 2020 Census.

A conservative, Soboleski said he ran for the Legislature in 2022 because he was frustrated with government during the pandemic. And he decided to run for Congress because he's concerned about the priorities and lack of urgency he sees in D.C.

"They don't do enough and they don't get enough done," he said. "We need people down there who are less interested in money and fame and power and more interested in justice."

But first he'll have to defeat Theriault, the 30-year-old former racecar driver backed by the National Republican Congressional Committee, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson ... and Trump.

Soboleski says he is an ardent Trump supporter, as he makes clear in conversations with business owners later in Dover-Foxcroft.

"I'm hopeful. My team and I are doing everything we can possible do to help Donald Trump win this next election," he told one business owner. "We need to have him as our president. We need to give him a Republican Congress."
 
But Soboleski’s campaign had raised less than one-tenth of the $1.2 million hauled in by Theriault as of late March. Without money for TV ads, Soboleski has used three debates to tout his sponsorship of a new state law giving the Legislature final say over future electric vehicle mandates and to point out differences with Theriault on issues such as drug policy.

"I voted against safe injection sites," he said during a WGME debate. "I don't agree that that's the right way to go at all. I believe if you want to get somebody off of narcotics, the way to do that is through abstinence and rehab."

Theriault responded that he supports enhancing border security to keep drugs like fentanyl from coming across but he also approaches the issue from a personal standpoint because, like many families, his has felt the impact of addiction.

"I'm very proud to say that I believe in making sure we allow people, when they need help and are calling for help, that they get the resources that they need," Theriault said during the debate. "And right now that's not happening. Our drug treatment centers are over-full."

Soboleski also argues that he's the better GOP candidate for the fall because, as a Marine Corps veteran, he could win back some independents and Republicans who have supported Golden in part because of his Marine Corps service.

Soboleski’s pledge to support other veterans resonates with Dominick Riitano, a former service member himself who runs a small brewery, Two Knights Brewing in Sangerville, with his brother. While campaigning with Soboleski in Dover-Foxcroft, Riitano also cited the candidate's consistent track record.

"This whole country needs change. Maine needs change," he said. "I don't think it's very business friendly right now. It's always hard to start stuff, there's a lot of red tape involved and a lot of taxes involved. People around here, they just can't afford it."

Those are concerns that both Soboleski and Theriault say they hear often on the campaign trail in the 2nd District. Republican voters will decide on Tuesday which man they believe can best carry the message to victory in November.