Craig Olson, from left, Jared Golden, and Lucas St. Clair, candidates for the 2nd District Congressional seat, acknowledge the crowd at the Democratic Convention, Friday, May 18, 2018, in Lewiston, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

LEWISTON, Maine — The candidates for the Democratic nomination to run against U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District trained their attacks on the Republican incumbent and largely avoided each other during their party’s state convention on Friday.

Hampden conservationist Lucas St. Clair and Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden of Lewiston are running a neck-and-neck race in the June 12 primary, according to a poll released by the Bangor Daily News this month. Islesboro bookseller Craig Olson is also running.

Democrats have a difficult battle ahead. They held the 2nd District for 20 years before Poliquin beat longtime legislator Emily Cain in 2014. He won a rematch in 2016, when President Donald Trump won the 2nd District in a historic split of Maine with Democrat Hillary Clinton.

That rightward shift has affected many former Democratic bastions in the district, including Lewiston, where the party began its convention at the Colisee on Friday. The city has an entirely Democratic legislative delegation, but it has been won twice by Gov. Paul LePage and has had back-to-back Republican mayors.

Although both Republicans carried the district, Poliquin avoided talking much about Trump in 2016. He has been a prodigious fundraiser, garnering $2.6 million for his campaign as of March’s end — $1 million more than all other Maine U.S. House candidates combined — with just under half of that coming from political committees.

He has been a rallying figure for Democrats. Last year, he voted for a failed Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and for a Republican tax cut package that is likely Trump’s signature achievement to date, but which Democrats have attacked for skewing toward wealthy Americans.

St. Clair said he ran because of Poliquin’s health care vote. Golden said the incumbent “has consistently voted with special interests. Olson said Poliquin “needs to be retired.”

Other than that, the candidates played up their backgrounds — St. Clair’s work as frontman of his family’s effort to establish the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Golden’s Marine service in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and Olson’s status as an “average resident.”

“As we look forward to November, we Democrats cannot repeat the mistakes of the past,” St. Clair said. “We cannot be timid. We cannot be afraid to be bold, to challenge the conventional wisdom.”

“I won’t flinch in the face of opposition, whether it comes from the GOP or from our own party,” Golden said.

Pat Clark, a delegate from Unity, backs Golden, saying he has “less baggage” than Cain. Clark predicted it’ll be a hard year for Republican incumbents, including Poliquin. She said opposition to the monument could hurt St. Clair in November.

“I worry that would hurt him, perhaps not in Aroostook County, but as you get down toward Lewiston,” Clark said.

Moriah Geer of Old Town backed Golden earlier in the race, but she now supports St. Clair. She said the legislator “comes across as young” and is “not as well-spoken” as St. Clair, who she first thought was a “rich kid” before learning of his Piscataquis County upbringing.

“He really is very positive and optimistic about the future of up there and the future of our whole district,” Geer said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein of Yarmouth, who is running unopposed in the primary to face independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, also spoke Friday.

Pingree said she was tired of being the only Democrat in high office in Maine “and this is the year we are going to change that. Ringelstein said the party shouldn’t let “corporate, status quo politicians” continue to hold office.

The seven Democratic candidates running to replace the term-limited LePage will address the convention Saturday, when the party will also debate proposed additions to its platform.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...