Bolstered by the backing of a former governor, Lisbon businessman Dale Crafts appeared to be cruising to a big win Tuesday night in the Republican congressional primary for Maine’s sprawling 2nd District.

Republican congressional candidate Dale Crafts of Lisbon talks with a passing voter at Longley School in Lewiston on Tuesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“It’s quite humbling,” Crafts said late Tuesday.

Crafts, a 61-year-old ex-state legislator backed by former Gov. Paul LePage, came across to the GOP rank-and-file as a safe choice who could be counted on to support President Donald Trump and a solidly conservative agenda.

Late Tuesday, Crafts held about 45% of the overall vote in a rural district that backed Trump by a wide margin in the 2016 presidential race. But the Republicans lost control of the 2nd District seat two years ago and hope to snatch it back in November.

With half the total vote counted, it appeared unlikely Craft’s lead could be overcome by either of his challengers, former Auburn state Sen. Eric Brakey or Adrienne Bennett, a real estate agent best known for serving as LePage’s press secretary for seven years. Crafts won Lewiston by a whopping margin.

Brakey conceded late Tuesday, but told supporters he won’t endorse Crafts unless the victor agrees to vote to end U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan “and other unconstitutional wars,” a provision the Lisbon candidate is unlikely to adopt.

Brakey and Bennett were battling for second place in a contest that may be decided, at least formally, by ranked-choice voting unless Crafts tops 50% by the time the last votes are counted. It appears that Brakey will finish last.

“It’s been a long couple of months and now it will be a long couple of hours,” Bennett told supporters at a victory party in Bangor.

All three candidates spent much of Election Day greeting voters at polling places from Presque Isle to Auburn. None of them wore face coverings despite calls from public health experts to do so.

Brakey, 31, the first to enter the race a year ago, appeared for much of the campaign to be the likely victor. He raised the most money, by a wide margin, and built a district-wide campaign organization that dwarfed his rivals.

Standing outside the former Longley School in Lewiston, Brakey said if the election had been held 35 days ago, as originally planned, he would have won for sure.

But the five weeks since have been tougher on him in large part because a dark money Super PAC poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into assailing him in mailers and advertising, questioning his allegiance to Republican President Donald Trump and even trying, with scant evidence, to tie him to the most visible, and liberal, Democrats in the House.

That provided an opening for Bennett, 41, and Crafts, who exploited his endorsement by LePage, to win over many party loyalists, especially those who remembered Brakey as a rabble-rouser during the 2012 presidential campaign when the young operative directed Ron Paul’s effort in Maine that shocked the old guard with its success.

Crafts said in the last several weeks, he could feel “something was happening” in his favor. He said he could sense that his support was “just skyrocketing.”

Adrienne Bennett, congressional hopeful, appeared before supporters Tuesday night at Dysart’s in Bangor in a brief Facebook Live video from her campaign.

Most of the campaign this year, though, featured the three hopefuls jostling over which of them would prove the best ally for Trump. Only at the end of the race did questions of foreign policy spur serious divisions among them.

The district’s incumbent congressman, Jared Golden of Lewiston, won the seat in 2018 in the nation’s first ranked-choice election for federal office. He narrowly defeated two-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, in a race whose outcome was decided in part by those whose first-round votes went to two independents in the race. Poliquin opted not to seek a rematch because, he said, he wanted to spend more time with his elderly parents.

Golden, who fought as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been targeted by the GOP because his district generally leans toward the Republicans. Trump won it by a 10-point margin in the 2016 presidential race.

With $2 million in his campaign coffers, Golden won’t go down without a fight.

The congressional race is likely to receive less attention than the showdown between Poliquin and Golden two years ago because of the enormous amount of money flowing into Maine’s U.S. Senate race this year. The latter may well prove the most costly in the nation despite the Pine Tree State’s comparatively cheap television advertising rates.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday that she’s not going to take sides in Golden’s congressional race. She said she has her own election to worry about.

Golden has said he’s not intruding on her re-election bid either.

The general election will be held Nov. 3.

Republican congressional candidate Eric Brakey introduces himself to voters at Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn on Tuesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

 

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