Democratic congressional hopeful Tim Rich, a Bar Harbor coffee shop owner, said the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary campaign was “a big awakening for me.”

He credited one moment last year for shifting his despair into a desire to combat what he saw as “a dangerous threat” to American democracy.

On the anniversary of Paul Revere’s famous ride to warn the patriots in Lexington of the British army’s decision to march into the Massachusetts countryside, Rich said, he stood in the Great Room at Ellis Island in New York City, looking over at the Statue of Liberty nearby.

In that spot where immigrants once clambered off ships into the New World, Rich, 40, said he couldn’t believe how far politics had fallen. Feeling “deeply troubled” watching Trump, who reminded him him of World War II-era Italian fascist Benito Mussolini in his contempt for law and authoritarian style, Rich said he decided to offer voters a competing version of America.

Rich is one of a handful of Democrats vying for the opportunity to serve as his party’s standard bearer to take on U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican who is seeking re-election next year in a district that leans Republican.

Though state Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, appears to have more support within the party establishment than the other contenders, Rich is planning to wage a vigorous campaign.

“I don’t believe the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the national party should have any role in a primary,” Rich said. Party officials in Washington and Augusta, he said, represent “the same old politics” that hasn’t delivered victory.

Rich took on Trump directly during a rally in Bangor last summer, when the future president asked him directly to leave. The crowd chanted “out, out, out” as Rich was escorted away.

“Ordinary Americans have a responsibility to speak up,” Rich said

The district that Rich hopes to represent voted for Trump by a wide margin last fall, but Rich said that’s more an indication of its independent, anti-establishment nature than a real endorsement of the president’s policies.

He said Poliquin “has just been terrible,” especially in his vote for a controversial health care bill that failed in the Senate, and voters need to hear about it. Rich said the congressman often votes against the interests of his district and hasn’t done enough to bring jobs back to struggling communities.

A longtime businessman, Poliquin, 63, portrays himself as working energetically to promote business growth and jobs in the district. Among the bills he’s pushing in the House are those that would help loggers, farmers and the fishing industry. But Rich said he’s falling well-short.

“Every person in our country is working harder for less money than they were 40 years ago,” Rich said. Poliquin’s district is taking it on the chin more than most, he added.

Rich said his agenda includes creating an affordable health care system, providing high-quality education that doesn’t leave students burdened with hefty loans, dealing with the $20 trillion national debt and creating new “high-paying blue-collar jobs” by fixing bad trade deals that sent manufacturing overseas.

He said Maine has a great opportunity to develop its already robust renewable energy sector and to find new life for its abandoned mills. With innovation and federal help, Rich said, much could be done.

“I’m tired of the attitude that we can’t do better,” Rich said, including the notion that voters must settle for the lowest common denominator in politics. “We need to start leading again,” Rich said.

Rich said he’s not afraid to take on a big challenge.

When he opened his take-out espresso shop, The Independent Cafe, as the country began coming out of the recession, he said he “started with almost nothing” but turned it into a thriving establishment.

That same spirit can carry him to Congress, Rich said.

In addition to Golden and Rich, other Democrats seeking their party’s backing in the race are Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, Craig Olson of Islesboro and Phil Cleaves of Dexter. Democrats will hold a primary next June to determine their candidate. The general election is in November 2018.

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Tim Rich

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