In today’s edition … Trail Mix: Isaac Arnsdorf on how Trump-endorsed candidates are recalibrating for the general election … Shaped by gun violence and climate change, Gen Z weighs whether to vote, Mariana Alfaro writes … but first …
A Maine Democrat is hoping voters will reward his independent streak
LEWISTON, Maine — Rep. Jared Golden is, once again, in the political fight of his relatively short career.
As one of seven House Democrats running for reelection who represent districts that former president Donald Trump carried in 2020, Golden is a prime target of Republicans who need to win this seat and others like it to take back the House.
Golden’s campaign strategy is similar to how he operates in Washington: Portray himself as a fiercely independent lawmaker focused on his state’s needs while distancing himself from the national Democratic Party.
- In this vast, rural district that often shuns hardcore partisans and typically elects moderates, the strategy has worked for him in the past. In 2018, Golden defeated then-Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R), who’s challenging Golden again this year. He won again in 2020 when the district voted for both Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Trump.
But this time, Golden is being outspent by Poliquin, who is running a traditional Republican campaign focused on inflation, crime and the border, in a sprawling district where many voters learn about candidates through television ads. The race is as a test of how willing voters in a swing district are to support a Democrat — no matter how independent — when the party and its leaders are unpopular.
On an unseasonably warm fall day in western Maine, Golden met with the founders of Operation Reboot at their rural hunting property. The organization hosts veterans struggling to readjust to a post-service life through nature, including hikes, hunts and fishing.
The group’s mission hits close for Golden who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I took a real interest in the issue of PTSD since I’ve been in elected office,” he said in an interview, adding that he first ran because Maine had zero beds for veterans with mental health and substance abuse issues despite 10 percent of the population being veterans.
- These are the type of campaign events Golden hopes will help him hang on to his seat as he tries to keep the focus on local issues and what he’s doing for the state instead of broader national debates.
The Maine Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Golden. The National Rifle Association gave Poliquin a top grade but declined to endorse him, signifying their acceptance of Golden in that seat.
Michael Edes, executive director of the Maine FOP, said in an interview that Golden is in constant communication with them. “Golden gives us a seat at the table. That’s all we ask for,” Edes said, adding that he has never heard from Poliquin, even when Poliquin was in Congress
Golden, 40, born in Lewiston, Maine, flies under the radar in Washington, but is a constant source of consternation for Democrats.
He snubbed leadership on high-profile bills, including voting against one of the two articles of impeachment against Trump in the first impeachment; the assault weapons ban; the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better plan (which never passed the Senate); and the $2 trillion covid-related American Rescue Plan (which did pass and was signed into law). He also criticized Biden’s plan to cancel student loan debt.
He said Democratic leadership has stopped trying to whip him on votes and he ignores the advice of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The only nationally known Democrat who’s campaigned for him is moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), who did so virtually.
Unlike many other Democrats, Golden is not running on abortion, even though he says he supports abortion rights and believes Mainers think it’s a privacy issue.
But Golden has voted for many Democratic priorities, including the bills to codify Roe v. Wade and marriage equality. He also backed the infrastructure law, legislation to ramp up microchip manufacturing and Democrats’ climate change and health care bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
The old district wants to be the new boss
Poliquin characterizes Golden’s vote for the IRA as proof he is a puppet of the Democratic Party.
“Jared Golden, Joe Biden and AOC and all the folks that are in charge, they have spent trillions and trillions of dollars that we don’t need to fund the government,” Poliquin said at an event on Friday in Lewiston, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Poliquin appeared with Paul LePage, Maine’s former two-term Republican governor who’s also mounting a comeback run this year.
“Bruce doesn’t have a lot of substance,” Golden shot back in response to Poliquin’s attacks in an interview. “Sometimes it’s kind of like debating one of those dolls that you pull the cord in the back. You pull it and it has four or five phrases just, like, on repeat.”
- A spending disparity could be Golden’s biggest challenge, especially in the massive, rural district, which encompasses 80 percent of the state geographically. Poliquin and his Republican allies are outspending Golden and Democrats in the state, $17 million compared to $12 million, in media ad buys so far, according to advertising numbers from AdImpact.
Golden’s allies are placing some of the blame for the disparity at the feet of the DCCC.
“Just like in 2020, [the DCCC] made the map too big and they’re not doing enough to protect incumbents,” said a person close to the Golden campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. Other Democrats have expressed similar worries.
Poliquin served in Congress from 2015 to 2019. His vote for the Republican tax bill in 2017 and its impact on Medicare is one of Golden’s key attacks in the state that has the oldest population in the country..
During his previous campaigns for reelection to Congress in 2016 and 2018, Poliquin refused to say if he voted for Trump and tried to distance himself from the then-president. This time, Poliquin doesn’t often talk about Trump on the stump but uses a “Maine first, America first” slogan..
He won’t say if the 2020 election was legitimate. And in responses to questions from The Early, he wouldn’t say if he’d vote to impeach Biden should Republicans control the House or if he’d vote for a national abortion ban. (He voted for a 20-week abortion ban when he was in Congress.) When asked if he’d support a bill to the Electoral Count Act co-authored by Collins, his fellow Maine Republican, he said he hadn’t read the bill.
Like many rural regions, the district is economically stressed. Logging and paper mills were once robust, but they’ve hit hard times over the years. The Androscoggin Mill in the small town of Jay announced last month that it would close in the first part of next year, impacting nearly 200 people.
Voters outside the Hannaford grocery store in Jay say they have a wide range of issues they are concerned about, including inflation and abortion.
- David Flagg, 57, lives on a $1,600-a-month fixed income from Social Security. He said his monthly grocery bill has risen from $175 to $300. “I just want it to go back to the way it was,” Flagg said.
Native Mainer Karen Bor, who voted for Trump, said she is concerned about inflation. But she says the overturning of Roe v. Wade makes her angry.
“I like the fact that he crosses the line. He doesn’t just vote for what Biden says,” she said of Golden.
Ranked-choice voting could be a factor in the race’s outcome as it was in 2018, when Golden won after independent candidate Tiffany Bond’s votes were redistributed. Bond is on the ballot again this year.
It’s the “deja vu election,” said Pat Callaghan, a longtime political reporter and anchor at News Center Maine.
To hug or to distance: Trump-endorsed candidates recalibrate for the general election
Isaac Arnsdorf on the trail with Trump: A pair of Trump rallies this weekend underscored the high-wire act that many Republican candidates are walking this midterm, hoping to harness the former president’s enduring pull with the Republican base without turning off independents and swing voters.
In Nevada and Arizona, Trump shared the stage with candidates who benefited from his endorsement in the primary but have since walked back their ties to him.
Joe Lombardo, the Clark County sheriff running for governor of Nevada, said at a debate last week that it “bothers” him that Trump insists the 2020 election was stolen and said he wouldn’t call Trump a great president. “I think he was a sound president,” he explained. At Saturday’s rally outside Reno, however, Lombardo repeatedly called Trump “the greatest president.”
In Arizona, Senate candidate Blake Masters said at his own debate last week that the 2020 election wasn’t stolen and acknowledged Biden as the “legitimate president,” reversing himself on claims he made throughout the primary. Masters has also removed language falsely claiming fraud in 2020 election from his campaign website. Masters didn’t discuss the 2020 election in his speech at Sunday’s rally.
- Trump, not known for being magnanimous when it comes to personal slights, let those transgressions go unremarked.
Trump praised Lombardo as a friend he’s known for a long time who would be tough on crime and election integrity. For Masters, Trump said he watched him in the debate and approved of his performance, saying he “absolutely annihilated” Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).
In both states, Trump’s appearance could complicate Republicans’ efforts to run toward the middle after already locking up Trump’s base of supporters. Trump’s team has said the ex-president wants to cooperate with campaigns to go where he can be helpful.
Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for governor in Arizona, acknowledged the tension with defiance at Sunday’s rally.
“I have some of these know-nothing consultants who say, ‘You know you really need to back away from President Trump right now,’ and I say to them, ‘Put down Hunter Biden’s crack pipe right now,’” Lake said on the stage with Trump. “For those know-nothing consultants and the media, I want show you what it looks like when I step away from President Trump.”
She reached over and hugged him.
Shaped by gun violence and climate change, Gen Z weighs whether to vote
Will the kids be alright? “They call themselves the ‘mass shootings generation,’ their perspective shaped by deadly rampages at Newtown, Conn., and Parkland, Fla.,” our colleague Mariana Alfaro writes. “They sound the alarm about the devastation caused by climate change. They fear the threats to LGBTQ rights and now the ramifications of the loss of a constitutional right to abortion.”
- “They are Generation Z — commonly defined as those born between 1997 and 2012 — and they’re outspoken and politically active, known for viral stunts, organizing mass protests and trolling extremist politicians online.”
- “But the looming question with just a month until the midterm elections that will decide control of Congress and the fate of President Biden’s agenda: Will they vote in numbers to make a difference?”