The four Democrats jostling in a primary for the opportunity to challenge U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the general election collectively raised 25 percent more campaign cash this year than the Republican incumbent.
Filings with the Federal Election Commission Sunday show the four candidates together raised more than $550,000 from January through March, with Lewiston state Rep. Jared Golden leading the pack with nearly half the haul landing in his coffers.
“The people of Maine’s 2nd District agree that it’s time for a new generation of leaders in Washington,” Golden said.
But environmentalist Lucas St. Clair, another Democratic contender, also raked in a substantial tally, adding $217,000 to his treasury during the same period.
Poliquin, a two-term member of Congress, that he raised more than $440,000 for his reelection bid and has more than $2.2 million on hand to spend during the race. His first two congressional campaigns in the sprawling district were among the costliest in the nation, particularly when millions of dollars in independent expenditures from political action committees were factored in.
The other two Democratic candidates in the June 12 primary — Monroe builder Jonathan Fulford and Islesboro bookstore owner Craig Olson — also boosted their bottom lines during the winter fundraising quarter. Fulford raised $61,000 while Olson pulled in almost $14,000.
Though the Democrats raised more money in the first three months of 2018 than Poliquin, they still trail badly in terms of how much cash they have available for the campaign.
Adding their finances together, the Democrats at the end of March had $650,000 to spend on the race, less than a third of what Poliquin possessed, and were likely to shell out much of it before the primary. Poliquin doesn’t have to spend a penny on a primary.
But Democrats across the country are more hyped up about their prospects in the November general election than the GOP is and most experts anticipate that candidates in contested districts like Maine’s 2nd will attract substantial resources in the hope of knocking out Republican incumbents.
“People are ready for a change in Washington and they’re digging deep to make it happen,” St. Clair said.
All four Democrats said Poliquin is in trouble this year because of his votes, especially one last year to kill the Affordable Care Act, not because of the money that may be arrayed against him as the campaign heats up.
As Golden put it, “Since being elected, Poliquin has voted to protect corporations that misuse our personal data, take health care away from 100,000 Mainers, and add over $1 trillion to our nation’s debt. It’s time to hold Bruce Poliquin accountable.”
Poliquin, however, is pushing an alternative view of his record that focuses on his backing for initiatives he insists will help spur the economy of rural and small-town Maine. He said recently he is trying to block out the noise of the campaign so he can stay focused on his one goal” representing his constituents on Capitol Hill.
He can also take comfort in the reality that voters in his district haven’t ousted an incumbent in more than a century.
St. Clair said the “most important part of the campaign is connecting with voters and offering real solutions for the issues they care about,” which he called “the focus of our campaign.”
Fulford’s campaign has consistently assailed “the corrupting influence of money in politics” and asked voters to pay attention to “where and who the money comes from” for candidates in the race. His campaign manager, Phil Bailey, said the vast majority of his donations came from individuals who live in the district.
Olson said that “campaign consultants and strategists will tell you this race is about money, that the only indicator of progress or traction is how much funding you raise per quarter. It has become a race to the bottom, much like Wall Street and the concentration on next quarter’s numbers.”
He said, though, he only needed enough to pay for “gas, food and lodging, two part-time staffers, printed materials” complying with FEC rules.
“As a campaign, what else do you need to travel, meet our neighbors, learn about their concerns, and listen to their ideas as to what is needed to move the 2nd District forward? It was never my intention to out-raise Mr. Poliquin or my primary opponents,” Olson said.
Also in the running for the Nov. 6 general election is independent Tiffany Bond, a social media-savvy lawyer who has vowed to fuel her campaign solely with volunteers. She is not raising any money, urging supporters instead to donate to Maine charities or make purchases from small businesses in the district.
Democratic congressional candidates Craig Olson, left, Lucas St. Clair, Jared Golden and Jonathan Fulford at a recent 2nd District forum. (Sun Journal file photo)