There’s still a long time until Election Day, but Democrats have a big gap to make up if they hope to catch up with the campaign finances available to U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the two-term Republican from Maine’s 2nd District.
Half a dozen hopefuls on the Democratic side have taken in more than $300,000 so far – enough to give them a boost but still well behind the $1.5 million that Poliquin has stashed in his campaign treasury.
Leading the pack is state Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston, who has raised $104,269 in his bid to become the Democratic standard bearer in the effort to unseat Poliquin next year.
But two others aren’t far behind. Isleboro bookstore owner Craig Olson collected $78,269 and Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, a carpenter and farmer, hauled in $68,450.
The reports of two other Democrats vying for the party’s backing – Tim Rich and Phil Cleaves – are not yet available.
The only other Democratic hopeful, Lucas St. Clair, entered the race after the filing deadline. But in the first couple of weeks of his race, St. Clair has brought in about $73,000, according to spokesman David Farmer.
For his party’s candidates to have hauled in so much campaign money “shows a lot of excitement on the Democratic side,” Farmer said.
Adding to their optimism is a new poll by a Democratic firm that found this month that nearly half of the district’s voters have an unfavorable view of Poliquin and that in a head-to-head race with a generic Democratic challenger, the congressman would lose by a 47-37 margin.
The poll by Global Strategy Group, apparently done for an independent group, shows St. Clair with a commanding early lead among those vying for the change to take on Poliquin in 2018.
A consultant for Poliquin, Brent Littlefield, dismissed the poll as “a piece of paper bought and paid for by Mr. St. Clair’s paid team for the sole purpose of propping up a candidacy.”
He said polls given to the news media for free are “worth what you have paid for it: zero.”
But there is a bright spot in the poll results for Poliquin, too. It found he is ahead against St. Clair by a 44-41 margin.
Still, Littlefield said that for now St. Clair’s race “is not against Bruce Poliquin, it is against the many other Democrats who think they should run for Congress.”
“The Democrats have a difficult and lively primary on their hands which will be a real test of how extreme the Democratic party is in Maine,” he said. “Bernie Sanders handily won the Democratic Maine caucuses just last year. The question is which one of the many Democratic candidates for Congress is the real Bernie Sanders of Maine?”
The poll found that St. Clair, son of Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, is ahead of state Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston by a 40-8 margin among potential voters.
Though Golden is the assistant House majority leader, the poll found that he has little name recognition. Just 14 percent of likely primary voters have an opinion about him, it said, while 37 percent know something about St. Clair, mostly because of his highly visible role in his family’s donation of land to the federal government for the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
But almost half of voters remain undecided and, as Farmer pointed out, it’s awfully early in the race.
He said that given that a candidate can only be ahead, behind or tied, he would obviously rather be the one ahead.
Golden said that “anyone can pay for a poll that gives them the answers they want to hear but campaigns are won on the street.”
He said polls said Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Maine congressional hopeful Emily Cain and Democratic gubernatorial contender Mike Michaud were going to win, but none of them did. “I don’t put much stock in polls,” Golden said.
Farmer said that Golden “put up strong numbers” in the campaign finance filings for the period that ran through September and good showings from other contenders indicate there are a number of quality candidates hoping to secure Democratic support.
Golden said in a prepared statement he is “humbled by the hundreds of Mainers who came together last month to form the base of a grassroots movement with the goal of making Washington work for Maine, and not the other way around.”
But the money he’s raised is only a fraction of the $1.5 million that Poliquin has in his campaign coffers, according to Federal Election Commission filings for money collected through the end of September.
Golden, a Marine Corps veteran, said the 426 individual donations he’s received show strong grassroots support.
“Voters are sick and tired of special interests and the out-of-touch political establishment telling middle and working class Mainers how to live. Together we can send a clear message that enough is enough,” Golden said.
Poliquin’s two previous congressional races have been among the most costly in the country. Democrats are targeting him again in 2018, partly in the hope that voters will punish incumbent Republicans for pushing what they consider harsh health care proposals.
Global Strategy Group surveyed 625 people, including 400 likely general election voters and 300 likely Democratic primary voters, between Oct. 2 and Oct. 5. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points for the general election sample and plus or minus 5.7 percentage points for the primary sample.