Democratic congressional candidate Tim Rich is fed up with the Democratic Party.
Rich, a Bar Harbor cafe owner, said Wednesday he will likely quit the race this month rather than continue a campaign he doubts he can win.
“I believe in a fair fight, but there is no nobility in losing a rigged game,” Rich said.
Though the Maine Democratic Party insists it has stayed neutral, Rich, 40, insists the party establishment decided early on that state Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, ought to be the challenger to take on two-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican.
Rich said he has nothing against Golden or the other three Democrats vying for the party’s backing in a June 12 primary. He said he likes and respects each of them.
But, he said, the reality is that the party rallied behind Golden, “and it’s made it nearly impossible for everyone else” in the race to compete on a level playing field.
“We’re sorry that Tim feels this way, and we wholeheartedly disagree with his assessment,” said Scott Ogden, the Maine Democratic Party’s communications director.
Ogden said the party “has and will continue to maintain its neutrality throughout the primary process, in this race and in every race.”
“We believe that the only people who should get to make a judgment about the candidates in a Democratic primary are the Democratic voters of Maine,” Ogden said.
Golden said it is “disappointing that Tim’s casting blame” about the campaign “when there’s far simpler reality” to what occurred. But, he said, he understands the frustration a candidate can feel.
Rich said the alleged support for Golden in the party’s leadership made it easier for him to raise money and more difficult for competitors. Golden has $182,000 in his campaign coffers compared to $10,000 for Rich, who has the least of the five Democratic candidates.
But it goes further than just campaign cash, Rich said.
Nearly every Democratic state lawmaker would not even call him back to talk about the campaign, he said. Some booed him at a lobster bake when he complained that the Legislature did not do enough to implement a referendum on education funding, Rich said.
Golden said he earned the support of most lawmakers by fighting with them “for our shared Democratic values.”
And two local party committees, in Lewiston and Androscoggin County, endorsed Golden rather than remain neutral until grassroots Democrats pick a candidate in June, he said.
“That really bothered me,” Rich said.
State party officials urged local committees to avoid endorsements. They expressed frustration about the favoritism shown and asked the county committee to reverse its decision.
Golden shared Rich’s concern about the endorsements.
In a December letter, after Rich had begun to complain, Golden said Democrats “struggled with bias from within our own party” in recent years, an issue “that came to an extreme head during the 2016 presidential primary.”
“I personally believe that the Maine Democratic Party, of which the Androscoggin County Democratic Committee is part, should remain neutral in this primary election to ensure a full and fair process,” Golden wrote.
As a result, he said, he chose “not to accept” the endorsement. But, he said Wednesday, he remains proud of getting its support.
Earlier in the fall, Golden said on Twitter that he was “honored to receive the endorsement of the Lewiston Democratic Party today.”
He said Wednesday he’s still honored to have the backing of Democrats who are close to home.
“That’s my city. I represent this community and I love this city,” Golden said. he added that he doubts the local Democratic committee members even think of themselves as part of the bigger party apparatus.
Because the party appeared to favor Golden, Rich said, press coverage skewed toward Golden, including one story in Roll Call last summer that “really defined the game” for the party’s movers and shakers.
“I find that to be manipulative,” he said.
Looking at the big picture, Rich said, “I really feel like it’s a sham.”
Rich said he thinks his party has lost touch with many Mainers because it’s caught up in the perceived need to raise money and appeal to narrow constituencies instead of the broader public.
“It’s money. It’s all money. Big money in politics has corrupted our entire way of life,” Rich said. “We all know it, but we keep electing big-money people.”
Rich said that after presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong primary campaign in 2016, he hoped that party officials would learn the value of standing aside until primaries are over. But instead, he said, “it’s gotten worse.”
The whole process, Rich said, needs to be fair to everyone.
He said it’s part of an overall problem in which a Democratic Party whose major issues are generally on the mark, in his opinion, from universal health care to foreign policy, can’t seem to connect with “regular people.”
“We get lost in identity politics,” Rich said, and wind up focusing on important but minor matters instead of the ones that connect with the lives of Mainers, such as the opioid epidemic.
Rich said he knows his gripes are “going to anguish some in the Democratic Party, but it’s far more important to be honest” than to hold back in a misguided effort to help win at the polls.
Rich said he is not sure what is next for him, but said he is not done with public life.
“I’ll be back,” he said.
In addition to Golden and Rich, other Democrats seeking their party’s backing in the race are Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, Craig Olson of Islesboro and Lucas St. Clair of Hampden. The winner of the primary will compete in the Nov. 6 general election.
Democratic congressional candidate Tim Rich (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)