Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden once again has been elected to represent Maine’s 2nd District, which is mostly rural and has been fickle when it comes to party favorites.
Polls that put Golden ahead of his GOP challenger, Dale Crafts, turned out to be accurate — but not by as wide a margin as predicted.
Golden, who squeaked out a victory two years ago and upset Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin, is ahead with a solid 6 point lead with 98 percent of the expected vote reporting. On Wednesday afternoon, Golden addressed reporters at Democratic headquarters in Lewiston shortly after Crafts called to congratulate him.
“We both agreed we enjoyed getting to know each other better in the course of this campaign, and we plan to talk more in the months ahead about our families and the future and some of his ideas to improve the lives of the people of Maine’s 2nd District,” he said.
It was a stark contrast to the hard-fought political battle in 2018 that became the first congressional race to be decided by ranked-choice voting — an outcome that was challenged unsuccessfully in federal court. Back then, the race reached a fever pitch with a record $24 million raised.
This year, the latest campaign finance reports show just a fraction of that amount: with a little over $1 million for Crafts and about $5 million for Golden. And the race was mostly low-key, both on the airwaves and off.
In television ads, Isobel Golden highlighted her husband’s biographical narrative: his roots in the 2nd District, military service and record of straddling the party line.
“I saw my husband on TV a lot when he ran for Congress two years ago. But the way Washington Republicans tried to scare Mainers about him just made me laugh. So before they try it again — the real Jared Golden grew up in rural Maine, served as a marine in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, he’s one of the most independent members of Congress,” she said.
Golden has made expansion of health care and lower prescription drug prices a priority for his campaign, along with protections for veterans and seniors. But in the conservative 2nd District where President Donald Trump remains popular, Golden has tried to walk a tightrope.
“I’m not looking to be defined as, you know, someone who is there in opposition but rather someone that’s there, serious, about doing the job and doing the work,” he told Maine Public in 2018.
In his first campaign, Golden followed through with a pledge to vote against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And later, he became the only House member to break from his party and vote against one of two impeachment articles against the president.
Crafts, meanwhile, earned President Trump’s endorsement and turned it into an extended commercial on social media.
“Dale Crafts is somebody that is just so respected by everybody. Everybody loves ‘em. They respect ‘em and they love ‘em. We need Dale Crafts in Congress fighting for our police and our safety, our jobs, our borders, our 2nd Amendment and our God-given rights in every way,” Trump said.
A businessman and former state legislator from Lisbon, Crafts campaigned on the themes of reducing regulations, repealing the Affordable Care Act and privatizing social security. He made his Christian faith and support of gun rights a big part of his message. And he tried to portray Golden as out of step with constituents.
By late Tuesday night, even Crafts was forced to admit that he was the one who was not keeping up.
“The numbers are not favorable to me for this race. But we fought a good fight and we’re gonna see what things look like in the morning and then we’ll take it from there,” he said.
In a written statement Wednesday, Crafts said he told Golden he’d be praying for him and for the nation’s future.
“My biggest hope is that we can all come together at the end of this election season and remember that we are all Americans,” Crafts said.
For his part, Golden said he’s proud of running a positive campaign focused on his record, something political pundits advised him couldn’t be done if he wanted to win the race.
“We may not have proven that negativity doesn’t work, but we did show, with strength, that there’s another way. In fact, a better way. We showed that voters are hungry for a positive tone, positive leadership and civility in our public space. I heard that message everywhere I’ve been over this big district,” he said.
The same big district where Trump, with a decidedly different message, just captured one electoral vote.
Golden acknowledged that the forces trying to divide the nation are stronger than ever and so, he said, are the challenges of combating the coronavirus, keeping people safe and addressing economic inequality.
“There’s so much more work that needs to be done in this country. But the only way we can get there is by seeking common ground and focusing on results,” he said.