LEWISTON — Taking the stage at Bates College on Thursday, a quartet of 2nd District Democratic congressional hopefuls sounded pretty friendly with one another and not too different in their stances on the issues of the day.

They basically like unions, want to expand the Medicare system to cover everyone, support greater measures to deal with climate change and favor more immigration. But they especially promise to do whatever they can to stifle most everything that President Donald Trump seeks.

Still, there were a few issues on which the four contenders — Lewiston state Rep. Jared Golden, Monroe carpenter Jonathan Fulford, Islesboro bookstore owner Craig Olson and nonprofit executive Lucas St. Clair — staked out stances that didn’t quite match up.

St. Clair, for example, was the only one to decline to endorse a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, calling it “an arbitrary number” that might thwart economic growth in some parts of the country.

Alone among the four, Fulford said he would endorse turning the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument into a national park. The others said the timing isn’t right, including St. Clair, who spearheaded creation of the preserve.

But the candidates’ positions laid out at the 110-minute forum sponsored by the Androscoggin County Democratic Committee and Bates Democrats clearly had far more in common than the paltry items dividing them.


The four are vying for the right to challenge U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who has represented Maine’s 2nd District since 2014, when he narrowly defeated Democrat Emily Cain for an open seat. Two years later, he beat her again, by a wider margin.

But despite Poliquin’s success on the campaign trail, Democrats see him as vulnerable in an election in which GOP lawmakers may struggle to hang on if special election results around the country are any indication of slipping fortunes for Republicans.

Golden, the assistant minority leader in the state House, said one thing voters can count on from him is that he already has a solid record of legislative achievement, something the rest of the field can’t match.

“I am ready to beat Bruce Poliquin,” Golden told the audience of about 50 people. “I‘ve got the experience and the record and I know what leadership is all about.”

Democrats hope to tap into a national effort to recapture the House from the GOP. The House Majority PAC, which has close ties to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has already announced plans to spend $43 million this year in the effort.

Party leaders have said the unpopularity of both Trump and the GOP’s unsuccessful effort last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act have left incumbent Republicans from many districts vulnerable, including Poliquin.


The Washington Post reported this month that the Democratic political action committee has already reserved $1.7 million worth of possible television advertising time on stations in Portland, Bangor and Presque Isle — a move it can reverse if it decides the money would be better spent somewhere else.

Brent Littlefield, a Poliquin campaign consultant, said Thursday that “out-of-state groups aligned with San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi are spending millions of dollars trying to fool the Maine people into defeating” the two-term incumbent.

“Those are the rules” that both sides have to play by, St. Clair said, pointing out that he can’t coordinate with any outside spending organization, whether he likes it or not.

He said he’s not happy about all of the money flowing into politics and opposes the Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates for more spending. St. Clair said all of the cash pouring into races is “the biggest corruption” of politics since the dawn of the republic.

But, St. Clair said, the GOP shouldn’t be worrying about the money. It ought to be concerned about “the terrible decisions” Congress is making for ordinary Americans.

Littlefield said that Democrats “claim to care about issues, but they only care about politics and electing any one of the individuals in this forum who will simply do their bidding.”


If they didn’t care about the issues, they sure did a good job of acting passionate about them.

Olson said the country has to do better on the international stage.

“We basically have an amateur in the White House,” Olson said. Calling Trump “a fairly cowardly” leader, he insisted “there are no adults in the room who know what they’re doing and that is my biggest concern.”

“We have to find a way to lead with diplomacy and not with war,” Golden said.

Fulford said the Paris Accord, the worldwide pact dealing with climate change that Trump rejected, is “critical to the future of the planet.”

They hailed Maine’s new immigrants, praised teachers, fretted that poor decisions on tariffs could set off a trade war, called for better background checks for gun buyers, bemoaned the nation’s failure to take care of veterans properly and vowed to try to obtain a federal law that would stop states from imposing anti-union, “right to work” statutes.


Any one of them, said county Chairwoman Elaine Makas, would be a big improvement over Poliquin.

The new ranked-choice voting system that will be in place for the primary — the first time in American history that it will be used for a congressional election — provides an incentive for candidates to get along with one another, experts said.

To come out on top, they may need to attract the second-place votes of supporters whose own candidates fall short in the first or second round of ballot counting.

The winner of the primary will get the opportunity to take on Poliquin in the Nov. 6 general election. In addition to the major party candidates, there will likely be at least one independent in the race, lawyer Tiffany Bond.

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Democratic congressional candidates Craig Olson, Lucas St. Clair, Jared Golden and Jonathan Fulford at a 2nd District forum Thursday night at Bates College. They are competing in a June 12 primary for the opportunity to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the general election this fall. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)

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