Maine's Congressional Races: High stakes in the 2nd District

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With control of the U.S. House at stake, it’s no surprise Democrats are coming hard after the only Republican incumbent from New England — and that the GOP is equally committed to holding them back.

Two-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who claimed Maine’s sprawling 2nd District four years ago, faces a challenge from Democrat Jared Golden, a state representative from Lewiston with a military background. There are also two independents in the race, educator Will Hoar of Southwest Harbor and Portland attorney Tiffany Bond.

Both major party candidates reflect their party’s mainstream — though the two try to paint each other as extremists — and each points to his personal story as a key reason voters should choose them at the polls Nov. 6.

The independents have their own personal stories, and reasons for getting into the race, and say their unique perspectives are also worthy of voters’ support.

Until Poliquin grabbed an open seat in 2014, the district had been in Democratic hands for two decades and generally leaned a bit toward Democrats.

But the aging, nearly all-white and rural district has been struggling for years, its recent votes reflecting more than anything a desire for change.

It backed Barack Obama’s two presidential runs by a wide margin and then handed Donald Trump the only electoral vote he secured in New England by backing the GOP’s choice for the White House by a 7-point margin.

Experts who weigh congressional races across the nation say Maine’s 2nd District currently either leans slightly to Poliquin or is a tossup, the designation it received from the respected Cook’s Political Report.

Millions of dollars in television advertising are already teed up to last all the way through the campaign — including commercials from outside groups that, if history is any guide, are likely to pound the candidates with a nearly unceasing array of attacks.

Voters will also see plenty of direct mail, social media squabbling and perhaps a volunteer or two knocking on their front doors as political activists take aim at the electorate.

Closer to Election Day, at least two debates are scheduled for the District 2 candidates that will be shown on statewide television. The first is Monday, Oct. 8, the second is Tuesday, Oct. 16.

One new twist in this year’s congressional race is that it will feature, for the first time in the country’s history, a federal election relying on ranked-choice voting.

That’s how the two independents in the race are likely to make their mark, though there’s always a chance one or both could catch fire and have a genuine shot of winning.

In the ranked-choice system, voters have the option of casting a ballot for their first-place choice from among Poliquin, Golden, Bond and Hoar.

But they can also make a second- and third-place pick so that if their preferred candidate is out of the running, their second vote would automatically replace the initial one, a process that continues until somebody gets a majority of the votes or there are only two candidates left.

What that means is that if nobody gets more than 50 percent of the vote initially, it’s possible the second-place finisher in initial voting could wind up winning if he or she collects a hefty majority of voters’ second-place choices.

The only public poll available for the race, which shows a close contest, indicates that ranked-choice voting might actually make a difference in the race.

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Tiffany Bond, left, Jared Golden, Will Hoar and Bruce Poliquin are running for U.S. House of Representatives in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. (Contributed photos)

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