In a move urged by Democratic Party leaders, state Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston aims to unseat two-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican.
Golden, a combat veteran, said he’ll concentrate on “the table issues that really matter to people,” such as fixing bad trade deals, creating jobs and improving the state’s crumbling infrastructure.
“I’m not here to tell people how to live. I’m here to help them live,” Golden said. “I’m not a Portland Democrat.”
Golden, 35, the third-ranking leader in the state House, plans a public announcement Thursday morning in Lewiston’s Kennedy Park to say he will take on Poliquin in a race that’s likely to garner national attention.
It may also lead to a cantankerous primary next year as rank-and-file Democrats choose from a field of at least five contenders vying for the opportunity to send Poliquin packing in the 2018 election.
Poliquin is seeking re-election after twice defeating Democrat Emily Cain in the 2nd District, the largest and most rural district east of the Mississippi River. It is also the poorest and least diverse district in New England.
For Golden, who was born in Lewiston and grew up in Leeds, the district’s mixture of working people, small businesses and middle-class values is the stuff he’s built his life around. They’re folks, he said, that bickering, partisan politicians too often neglect.
His odds, though, remain long.
Political experts say that Poliquin, who triumphed last year in one of the costliest House elections in the country, is likely to hold the district for the GOP next year, but it’s not a given. Democrats are focusing on him as the only Republican congressman remaining in the entire six-state region.
Golden joins a field that already includes four contenders from his party’s ranks: Phil Cleaves of Dexter, Tim Rich of Bar Harbor, Craig Olson of Islesboro and Jonathan Fulford of Monroe.
At least a couple of other potential candidates are waiting in the wings as they weigh their options.
Democratic Party leaders scoured Maine in the hope they could convince somebody to run who has enough name recognition, experience and political heft to offer them a reasonable shot at upending Poliquin.
Golden didn’t take much convincing.
“We need more veterans in Congress,” he said, because they are “people who put their lives on the line and put service to their country ahead of anything else.”
Moreover, he said, veterans — whom he tagged “the other 1 percent” — know the importance of “getting the job done” and never leaving anyone behind.
“Isn’t that what you want out of your leaders?” he asked. “People with good, strong principles who put the people they represent in the community first. People who are going to stick up for you.”
One of the reasons the party machinery eyed Golden was the combination of his legislative leadership and his military background. That he also hails from the biggest community in the district didn’t hurt.
Democrats have showed a preference for recruiting veterans as candidates for several election cycles, hoping to undermine any claim they’re weak on defense, but it’s not clear it’s helped at the polls.
Politico reported recently that Democrats have run 96 veterans for congressional seats in the past two election cycles. Only six of them won, all taking open seats that Democrats had held. The party hasn’t seen a veteran knock out an incumbent Republican since 2012.
Heading into the 2018 race, Democrats hold 201 seats in the House compared to 234 in GOP hands, making it remotely possible the Republican grip could be broken if most of the few dozen swing districts were to swing left next year.
President Donald Trump’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, tweeted this week the results of a survey of 2,000 Republican-leaning voters nationally. Nearly half of them disapprove of the job the GOP-controlled Congress is doing. Congress rates even worse among independents and Democrats.
Golden, who grew up in Leeds, served in the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the service, he studied politics and history at Bates College in Lewiston.
Following graduation, he worked as a professional staff member for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on the Homeland Security Committee and then as a legislative aide in the Maine State House.
After winning an open state House seat in 2014, Golden has pushed for more help for veterans trying to build new careers and to bolster educational opportunities generally.
His wife since 2015, Isobel, is a Lewiston city councilor who is not running for re-election. She is starting law school this month.
Democrats will hold a primary next June. The general election is in November 2018.