The Key To Victory In A Trump District

NEW ENGLAND — OLD TOWN, Maine — Even though Jared Golden is running for reelection in a challenging district in a challenging year for House Democrats, his strategy is straightforward: let everyone know that there are times when he, too, can’t stand his own party.

There are indications that it is successful. Kevin Norris, 23, stopped Congressman Jared Golden as he was touring the University of Maine and thanked him for voting against the ban on so-called assault weapons that had been proposed by his fellow Democrats. Independent voter Norris, who just returned from serving in the Army overseas, singled out Golden as one of the few Democrats who “gets it.”

With this strategy, he has twice defeated the GOP’s ascendancy in this state, most recently in 2020, when he defeated Joe Biden by over 14 percentage points and at the same time saw the Democratic Party suffer devastating losses in rural areas. Republicans, though, say his luck is going to run out.

Former GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who lost to Golden by a single percentage point in 2018 and decided not to run in 2020 due to family obligations, presents a formidable challenge to Golden’s re-election bid. The national GOP is planning an all-out assault on the seat, tying the incumbent Democrat to the unpopularity of his party’s leadership and to persistently high inflation.

The goal is to convince enough voters that he is a centrist like Joe Biden did to become president. Before bringing out a box of doughnuts for a ride-along with the Lewiston Police Department, Poliquin recently declared, “Biden’s not a moderate” in an interview outside of a campaign event.

READ MORE: 

Poliquin, who defeated Golden in the historic first-ranked choice election for a member of Congress four years ago, noted that Golden agrees “more than 80 percent of the time” with Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Congress.

Former Marine Golden, now 40, has more to say about how his party handled the gun vote than what’s already been written here. A lot of his gun-owning supporters, he said, think Democrats “don’t really know what they’re talking about” because of the Democrat Party’s use of the technically erroneous term “assault rifles.”

That’s just one of several gaps Golden points out between the national Democrats and the working-class people he’s trying to win over. As a noteworthy outlier to the rightward movement, hastened by Donald Trump’s ascension, in this outlying northern Maine seat, Golden could be the answer to his party’s problems.

“We have to ask ourselves about some of the things that the national party is adopting,” Golden said in a rare interview with national media as he drove his dusty Chevy pickup around the University of Maine campus. Sometimes I find myself disagreeing with my party’s assessment of what should be prioritized.

But Golden isn’t that simple to tie to the rest of his party; he dislikes labels almost as much as he dislikes Washington, D.C. politics. Golden regularly misses Democratic caucus sessions while his colleagues worry over talking points. He joked that he throws party campaign memos in the garbage.

Saying, “I think this is more money than the economy needs,” I meant it. Golden recounted that when he brought inflation up as a concern to party leaders, they told him, “you’re wrong,” back before inflation became a major issue for Democrats.

As the lone Democrat to vote against the package, Golden’s criticism of it as a “mountain of unneeded or premature spending” caused his fellow party members to become “pretty upset,” he later recalled. “(I) assumed that was true,” he continued. That’s why I came out and said it.

This suggests that, despite Poliquin’s compelling economics-focused pitch to voters here, he may not be so easily defeated in November.

However, Golden did support Biden’s most recent major initiative: a comprehensive climate, health, and tax bill that, despite new spending, is expected to reduce the deficit by $700 billion over ten years. Voters in Golden’s district tend to be older and have lower incomes, so he thinks that provisions like allowing the government to negotiate prescription pricing for Medicare will have a major impact on their lives.

In any case, we’re talking about benefits that won’t be realized for quite some time. Even if the additional billions of dollars are paid for in full, the Republicans argue, they won’t have much of an impact on inflation in the near future.

Poliquin, a former treasurer of Maine, has noted that he hears the most about these price increases when he travels across the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River. Even though Golden voted against much of the Democratic spending plan, he still thinks people are ready to punish the party as a whole.

An elderly woman told Poliquin she was worried of losing her home because of the highest-ever costs for key household goods in Maine. “The folks I talk to are scared to death about the future of this country, for their future and their kids,” Poliquin said. Mainers are understandably worried about the escalating cost of heating oil, which has already doubled since last winter and is set to rise even further this season.

When Biden, the state’s junior senator, is drowning in economic woes, Golden seems to keep his chin up. Around Memorial Day of this year, Biden’s approval rating was just around 40%, while Golden’s own favorability was at 60%, according to one poll that had not been made public before.

Golden led Poliquin in the head-to-head fight by 9 points, according to the same poll conducted by a Democratic-affiliated group but not released since the party does not like to show its hand in close races. And that’s not the only unusual thing about this area. Last month, Golden made headlines once again by becoming the first national Democrat in history to get the endorsement of the Maine Fraternal Order of Police, defeating Poliquin in the process. On the same day, the group also backed former governor Paul LePage, a far-right figure, in his own re-election attempt.

Executive Director of the Maine Police Association Mike Edes praised Golden for his frequent dialogue with local law enforcement.

“Jared is more of a traditional Democrat, in the sense that, sure, you do belong to a party, but he is to the party’s right,” Edes said. I predict a victory for him.

READ MORE: 

This kind of engagement is what has kept Golden’s base of support alive despite his divisive voting record, which ranges from voting against the Democrats’ police reform debate (no) to voting for two of Donald Trump’s impeachments and against the third (another no).

Golden’s proximity to federal funds is another factor in the city’s popularity. Some swing lawmakers were apprehensive of Republican criticism as Democrats tried to revive earmarks for the first time in a decade. However, Golden made the most of the opportunity and had eight out of ten earmarks approved.

In Golden’s hometown of Lewiston, where Mayor Carl Sheline spent a month working with Golden’s staff on the application, a sizable portion of the grant was dispersed.

The politically agnostic Sheline remarked, “Jared always does what he thinks is right and for that, he has my great regard and vote.” Sheline is officially endorsing Golden for reelection.

Recently, Golden and his group visited the University of Maine, another possible earmark recipient. While departing the campus, where the flannel-clad congressman seemed well at home among the abundance of Carhartt gear and steel-toed boots, Golden recommended that his party “simply talk about what we’ve been successful accomplishing, instead of continuously focused on — griping about — what” can’t get done.

But he isn’t going to sit around idly worrying about what the future of his political career holds. Noting that “this isn’t my identity,” he paraphrased former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s advice not to let your self-worth depend on your position in life.

If the people of this country elect me to serve again, I will do so indefinitely,” he promised. However, “Am I going to lose?” is not something I am losing sleep about.