AUGUSTA — Eight days after the polls closed to end a long but not especially bitter congressional primary, Democrats learned Wednesday that Lewiston state Rep. Jared Golden will be their standard-bearer in the 2nd District race this fall.
The 35-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran defeated two rivals in a three-way primary that marked the first time a congressional election relied on ranked-choice voting to select a candidate.
The win lands Golden in a contest that’s virtually certain to be both nasty and costly as outside groups and political insiders battle to try to snatch away Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s seat from the Republican column in what is shaping up to be a vicious midterm election across the country.
Golden wound up with 54 percent of more than 50,000 votes while second-place challenger Lucas St. Clair, an environmentalist, captured 46 percent of the total. Both benefited from the votes distributed to their columns from those who voted for Islesboro bookstore owner Craig Olson, who started off with 9 percent.
Golden, the majority whip in the state House, said his message of economic fairness and political reform resonated in the sprawling, rural and poor district.
“People are tired of political games,” he said in a prepared statement. “If we work together, I know we can fix our expensive health care system, take power back from the special interests, create middle-class jobs that pay respectable wages with real benefits, and build a better future for Maine.”
St. Clair and Olson said they will back Golden in his quest to unseat Poliquin, a two-term Republican, in the Nov. 6 general election. There are two independents in the race as well.
Golden’s strong showing “confirms what I knew on election night when the majority of the votes were counted,” Olson said. “Jared ran an exceptional, honorable race and I was honored to share many stages with him and will do everything that I can in the next five months to make sure that he defeats Bruce Poliquin in November.”
“It’s time for all of us to come together to make sure” Golden defeats Poliquin, St. Clair said.
“The renewed threat to Social Security and Medicare, the continued assault on health care, the crisis at the southern border — there’s too much at stake for anyone to sit on the sidelines,” he said.
Brent Littlefield, a Poliquin consultant, said the Republican lawmaker “works tirelessly for the people of Maine.”
“His bipartisan leadership passing bills which protect and grow Maine jobs comes as a result of his lifetime of experience as a job creator,” Littlefield said. “Bruce Poliquin’s work for Maine veterans has earned their trust and support.”
He also pointed out that no sitting member of Congress has lost the district in more than a century.
Other Republicans were on the offensive.
“Jared Golden is the epitome of a candidate who raced to the far left to beat his opponent in a Democratic primary, and is now too out of touch for the district he is trying to represent. Mainers will reject Jared and his extremely liberal views at the polls this fall,” said Michael Byerly, spokesman for the GOP’s Congressional Leadership Fund.
Jason Savage, executive director of the state GOP, said Golden “has a legislative track record more consistent with Nancy Pelosi’s ultra-liberal San Francisco than Maine. Voters will be shocked when they learn what Jared Golden really stands for.”
“Jared Golden is the Nancy Pelosi of Maine,” said the National Republican Congressional Committee’s spokesman, Chris Martin. “He spent his time in the state Legislature pushing a radical liberal agenda that included tax increases and a single-payer health care bill that would have bankrupted the state.”
Golden, who has vigorously defended his record in Augusta, offered a different take.
“For too long, politicians like Bruce Poliquin have favored the few at the expense of the many,” he said. “It’s time to reform our broken political system. It’s time for a new generation of leaders in this country who will fight for the hardworking people they were elected to serve.”
“Maine voters clearly recognized that service to his country and to his community is a value that has driven Jared Golden throughout his life,” said Ben Ray Luján, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“As a United States Marine Corps veteran who answered the call after 9/11, Jared has stood tall in the Maine Legislature for the needs of veterans suffering from PTSD, and is now leading the way to make affordable health care accessible to more of his fellow Mainers,” he said.
“Jared is on track to win back this district and ensure working Maine families once again have a fighter on their side in the 2nd District,” Luján said.
Before the three-way primary showdown last week, two other Democrats, Tim Rich of Bar Harbor and Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, dropped out of the race.
“Primaries are tough, but they make us stronger,” Golden said, adding that each of the men who sought his party’s backing would have made an admirable candidate.
Golden said he was confident from the start that he could win, “but this race has always been about more than winning.”
He said it is about the district and “the kind of leadership” its people deserve.
Democrats plan to hit Poliquin on his votes to kill the Affordable Care Act and in favor of a $1.5 trillion tax cut that Republicans said would spur economic growth and put more money in most everyone’s pockets.
Golden grew up in Leeds, served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, graduated from Bates College after his military stint and worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and for the Democrats in Augusta. He won a legislative seat in 2014.
Poliquin has held the congressional seat since 2014, representing the largest district east of the Mississippi River and one of the most rural and impoverished in America. An open seat when Poliquin first ran, he faced the same challenger, Democrat Emily Cain, in both of his previous congressional campaigns.
The independents in the race are Portland lawyer Tiffany Bond and Southwest Harbor educator Will Hoar.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives serve two-year terms and receive annual salaries of $174,000.
Jared Golden (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)