RUMFORD, Maine — The race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat is underway, but you would not know it is viewed as one of the more high-stakes campaigns of its kind in the country from the quiet tone of the campaign so far.
The 2nd District race was won narrowly by U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, in the most expensive race in state history to that point. Despite the 2020 election here being viewed as a “toss up” by Cook’s Political Report, the campaign has hardly ignited well over a month since former state Rep. Dale Crafts of Lisbon won the Republican nomination in a three-way primary.
Crafts sits well behind Golden in fundraising. Spending in the race is scant compared to around the same time in 2018. He faces an uphill battle with the incumbent polling well in the district. But the district should be competitive after President Donald Trump carried it in 2016 by 10 points. He is making a large play for Maine this year. Crafts has tied himself to the president.
A combination of the Republican primary being delayed for a month, an ongoing deadlock in Congress, the massive U.S. Senate race jamming up the Maine airwaves and fewer in-person events due to the coronavirus pandemic has kept the race from taking off, but observers say the pace might quicken after Labor Day as spending picks up and more tune in.
Crafts has visited police departments and held a fundraiser at the Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel, where owner Rick Savage found conservatives rallying around him for a time after he famously defied Gov. Janet Mills’ economic restrictions in the late spring.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such enthusiasm out on the campaign trail around the 2nd District,” Crafts said last week before an event at a Trump campaign office in Bangor. “Even now, people are starting to focus on the races around the country.”
Golden, a Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has barely mentioned Crafts’ name and kept a low profile so far. His campaign put down $1 million to reserve ads just as Crafts was spending his warchest to get through the July primary. One of the freshman congressman’s first three ads highlighted support from union shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works.
“I’ve been given the job and I’m just going to focus on doing it,” he said after a hike in Rumford with The Summit Project, a nonprofit that raises awareness around veterans’ issues.
Crafts must quickly boost his profile to catch up to Golden’s money lead, said Michael Leavitt, a Republican strategist from Maine who has worked for the national party. The pandemic-related delay gave Golden a month more to raise money while not having to spend much of it.
“That is a significant disadvantage,” he said. “Five to six weeks in politics is a lifetime.”
But Trump’s presence on the ballot will likely galvanize voters for Crafts, Leavitt said, adding “if the president is competitive in the district, Dale will be competitive in the district.” He dismissed polls giving Golden an edge, saying those reflected more name recognition than support.
Golden has tried to hew somewhat to his swing district, where 40 percent of voters approved of him and 27 percent disapproved in a Bangor Daily News-Digital Research poll released earlier this month. Early in his tenure, he cast a vote against gun control legislation and split his votes on two Trump impeachment articles earlier this year.
Former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who represented the district from 2003 to 2015 said the congressman’s low-key profile is likely to be an asset during the pandemic. He said Golden is smart to focus on consensus issues and constituent services.
“When you look at his record and ask ‘Has he done anything to upset the 2nd Congressional District,’ I would say no,” Michaud said.
But the freshman has staked out progressive stances on health care and campaign finance. Golden has supported a path toward “Medicare for all” since his 2018 race. That is featured prominently in a dossier from House Republicans’ campaign arm with one outside Republican group booking TV time so far with ads set to start October.
“Defeating Jared Golden is a top priority for Republicans,” said Michael McAdams, a spokesperson for House Republicans’ campaign arm.
Golden will also get help from national Democrats. Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican avoided cozying up to Trump, refus ed to endorse him publicly in 2016 before losing to Golden two years later. Crafts has done the opposite, winning the president’s endorsement after a primary characterized by candidates jockeying to align themselves with him.
Democrats’ dossier against Crafts, who lies in the Republican Party’s evangelical wing, highlights his social conservatism, including opposition to abortion. Those talking points may stand up if polling between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden remains close in the district, but perhaps less so if the president opens up a wide lead like he did in 2016.
“Jared has a record of delivering real results to his constituents that his opponent’s hyper-partisan agenda simply can’t match,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Sarah Guggenheimer.