Democrats appeared to have tapped Lewiston state Rep. Jared Golden on Tuesday as their standard bearer to try to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the general election.
Golden said it is possible he racked up more than 50 percent of the vote across the sprawling 2nd District — results were incomplete — but he’s sure he is at least close.
The Marine Corps veteran said he was especially glad to have collected a big win in Androscoggin County, especially in his hometown of Lewiston where he garnered 80 percent of the vote.
Initial tallies showed two frontrunners in Maine’s 2nd District — Golden and nonprofit executive Lucas St. Clair — but Golden gradually pulled away as more results came in.
Since it was not clear whether Golden got more than half the vote, it is possible ranked-choice voting will have to be factored in. But given Golden’s lead, St. Clair has little chance of pulling out a victory.
The third-place finisher, Islesboro bookstore owner Craig Olson, is out of the running. But those who selected him as their top choice will tip the balance between Golden and St. Clair when the secretary of state’s office adds in Olson voters’ second picks if Golden is short of a majority.
Olson said late Tuesday that it was “really odd” but he had “no idea” who his supporters preferred for the No. 2 selection.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Tuesday he believes all of the votes will be counted next week and a winner named. All of the ballots are supposed to be collected in time to start the second round of counting by Friday, he said.
Poliquin, who is seeking a third term, is considered potentially vulnerable because his scrappy district is tough to predict after voting twice for President Barack Obama and then tilting heavily toward Republican Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in the sprawling, rural district haven’t ousted an incumbent congressman in a century, though, so history bodes well for Poliquin.
In addition to Poliquin and the Democratic nominee, two independents are competing in the district: Portland lawyer Tiffany Bond and Southwest Harbor educator Will Hoar.
The necessity of turning to the votes cast by Olson supporters marks the first time in U.S. election history that ranked-choice voting has played a role in a congressional election.
Olson said he’s glad he jumped into the race last year.
“I don’t regret a single day of doing this,” he said. “I enjoyed it.”
Olson said he talked to enough voters across Maine to believe Poliquin is vulnerable because so many people are upset about health care and yearning for more good-paying jobs.
The hottest issue during the Democratic campaign arose in late April when a group created in March to advocate for the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument began a $300,000 television advertising campaign that promoted the park and offered kind words for St. Clair.
It was run by a friend who served as the best man at his wedding. Its funding remained secret. The ads stopped just before a federal deadline to identify the donor or donors.
Later in the race, the group paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for digital advertising of the same nature and at least three mailers that appear to have been sent to 2nd District Democrats.
Golden complained that St. Clair’s call for the group to stop were transparently fake, that the whole push was a dark money bid to influence the primary’s outcome.
All three of the candidates, though, insisted they are for reforms that would make campaign finances more transparent and fair.
In the ranked-choice voting Tuesday, Democrats could pick their top choice as well as a second and third alternative. Under the system, if the person with the most votes held less than half of the total, the votes of whomever finished last would be redistributed to those voters’ second choice. In a three-person race, that’s all that’s necessary to decide the winner.
There was a fourth person on the ballot, however, Jonathan Fulford. Fulford quit the race six weeks ago, too late to have his name removed.
The general election is Nov. 6. Members of Congress serve two-year terms for $174,000 annually.