PITTSFIELD, Maine — President Donald Trump hasn’t visited Maine since 2016, but his influence could be felt on Wednesday night when the three Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District came to speak with fellow conservatives at the public library here.
The hopefuls — former state Sen. Eric Brakey, former Rep. Dale Crafts and Adrienne Bennett, who was former Gov. Paul LePage’s press secretary — are trying to carve out distinct lanes in a June primary for the right to face U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a freshman Democrat who narrowly won a 2018 ranked-choice race in a district Trump took by 10 percentage points in 2016.
But the three share a common strategy — to remind potential voters of that often. They have made the Republican president’s rhetorical style their own as they target Golden largely on his October vote to endorse House Democrats’ impeachment process, though he has said he hasn’t decided on how he would vote on articles of impeachment.
Brakey told a crowd of 30 in Pittsfield on Wednesday that the “thing I love the most about President Trump” is his efforts to pull troops out of certain areas in the Middle East.
Crafts said he plans to “keep the Trump train” going by supporting the president’s fiscal policies.
Bennett said she has supported Trump “from the beginning” and “is the “only candidate that can say that” — a dig at Brakey and Crafts for first backing Trump opponents — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, respectively — in the 2016 presidential nominating process.
Brakey, 31, of Auburn got his start in the libertarian wing of the party and embraced Trump in his unsuccessful 2018 campaign against U.S. Sen. Angus King, running an ad saying King wanted to “replace your kids with refugees.” Donald Trump Jr. stumped for him then.
Crafts, a 60-year-old businessman from Lisbon Falls, is most in the mold of others that Maine Republicans have nominated for top-tier races. He is endorsed by LePage, who endorsed Trump in early 2016 by saying he “was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular.” A petition on his campaign website calls the impeachment inquiry “baseless” and a “witch hunt.”
Bennett, 40, of Bangor has the cleanest slate to work with in her transition from spokesperson to candidate. In a recent interview with the hard-right Breitbart News, she called Golden a “socialist” in “absolute lockstep” with Democratic leaders, including “Shifty Schiff” — a moniker Trump has used for U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the intelligence panel chairman.
The three shared similar stances on issues including gun control, a 2020 vaccine referendum, immigration and medical marijuana on Wednesday night. For Republicans in attendance, that made choosing an early favorite challenging.
With Trump up for re-election in 2020, he could factor into the 2nd District race more than last year. The Cook Political Report places next year’s race among nearly two dozen “toss-up” races in the House. Some at the Pittsfield event said respectful support for the president was important for the eventual candidate, even if they didn’t always agree with Trump.
Scott Seekins of St. Albans said he supports Trump, saying “he’s doing the things he needs to do” in office. He said he might not mind if a candidate disagreed with Trump, but he said he knew any candidate he would support would “try to work with him.”
Amanda Collamore of Pittsfield said she’s reserving judgment on Trump and said a candidate’s support for the president doesn’t matter to her.
“Just because you support someone doesn’t mean you’ll do a good job,” she said.