Republican Eric Brakey addresses supporters in front of Democratic Rep. Jared Golden's office in Lewiston, Maine, Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 18, 2019. Credit: Andree Kehn / Sun Journal via AP

Spending from outside groups has picked up ahead of the Republican primary in Maine’s 2nd District on Tuesday and it has been mostly targeted at bolstering or attacking the candidate who was in last place in the first independent poll of the race this week.

That’s former state Sen. Eric Brakey, who is squaring off with former state Rep. Dale Crafts and Adrienne Bennett, who was the spokeswoman for former Gov. Paul LePage, for the right to face Rep. Jared Golden, a freshman Democrat. The primary will use ranked-choice voting.

Crafts held the lead in a SurveyUSA poll paid for by the electoral reform group FairVote and released Wednesday by the Bangor Daily News, with 37 percent of the first-round vote compared to 25 percent for Bennett and 19 percent for Brakey. But Brakey, who was the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018, has been at the center of outside spending so far.

More than $1.2 million in independent expenditures have been spent on the race so far, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance. The majority of that total comes from Club for Growth and the Protect Freedom PAC, two libertarian-leaning organizations that have backed Brakey.

Those two groups have spent a combined more than $900,000 on the race. Most of it has gone to ads and mailers supporting Brakey, though Club for Growth has also spent $70,000 attacking Bennett. On the flip side, the nondescript American Policy Fund, a super PAC that formed in late June, has spent nearly $350,000 to attack Brakey over the past few weeks.

The latter group’s sources of funding are not known, as it will not have to disclose its donors until after the primary, though it shares a treasurer with a PAC affiliated with former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, of whom Brakey has been a frequent critic.

Those totals are fairly unprecedented for a Republican primary in Maine. There were no independent expenditures in the party’s hotly contested 2014 primary. But the spending still pales in comparison to the expected levels of outside spending in a general election in which Golden is a top target for national Republicans.

The House Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Democratic House leadership, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a group linked to Republican congressional leaders, have both pre-booked hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad slots for the race in October, according to federal filings.

In 2018, outside groups spent more than $13 million on the race between Golden and former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Congressional Leadership Fund was the biggest spender in what was then Maine’s most expensive race in history, dropping $3.4 million in a failed attempt to keep Poliquin in office.

Outside groups looking to influence the outcome in the 2nd District this year may have to fight for airtime with candidates and organizations in other competitive races that are already driving up the cost of advertising in Maine, which has traditionally been known for cheap TV rates.

Outside spending in Maine’s U.S. Senate race has already topped $14 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but that does not include millions more in dark-money spending. The candidates in that race, House Speaker Sara Gideon and incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins, have already raised a record $39 million.