Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives saw the majority they gained in 2018 eroded in last week’s election. One of the survivors was Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District.
He won his second term by 6 percentage points over former state Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon Falls, after the national parties pulled out of the race behind public polling that gave the freshman incumbent a wide lead. He still won 430 more votes in his district than President Donald Trump, who took the district’s one elector but lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Nationwide, Republicans flipped a net total of six seats. Golden’s roommate in Washington, Rep. Max Rose, D-New York, lost his Staten Island and south Brooklyn seat. The clawbacks led to soul-searching among House Democrats, many of whom vented on a tense phone call last week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
Golden has opposed Pelosi as leader. After running on support for Medicare for all in 2018, he ran away from it in 2020 in favor of a public option backed by President-elect Joe Biden. He won as a moderate who neutralized arguments made against him two years ago, including by winning high marks from gun-rights groups including the National Rifle Association.
Since the election, moderates have blamed progressives for pushing issues like Medicare for All and defunding the police. Progressives said those policies drove turnout and moderates did not compete aggressively enough during the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone blamed polling.
In a Monday interview with Bangor Daily News, Golden said poor messaging and believing in polling that ended up missing the mark hampered Democrats. He said politicians who cannot prove to be independent of their party run the risk of being tied to hot-button national issues. This transcript was edited for length and clarity.
What were the big political battles you saw playing out in this election?
I don’t really have a lot of thoughts about that, to be honest with you. We felt pretty consistently we had a strong level of support. We got a lot of positive feedback from people throughout the fall about the kind of positive nature of the campaign we were running. I know campaigns try and have a platform and try to make that platform the center of their campaigns. But I think they often largely fail and certainly those people who came up short didn’t get that done.
But I don’t know those who win are always fully in control about what it is that drives voters’ decisions. I reject the idea most voters are so simple as to be summed up as single-issue voters or even progressives or conservatives. I think it’s a mistake a lot of people in politics make — that campaigns are going to be about setting the chess pieces and trying to determine which of your issues are going to win the election.
Some freshman Democrats who came into office in 2018 in conservative-leaning districts lost their seats. What do you think that says about today’s political climate?
People want their representatives to represent them, not a party platform. I think if you fail to prove to people you’re independent minded and strong enough to stand up not only for yourself, but for them, they’re going to fall back on looking at the national discussion and agenda.
You led your opponent by double-digits in general election polls, and then ended up beating him by about six points. Were you surprised the race was as close as it was?
I think you should all stop looking at public polling. I don’t even bother reading the crosstabs of those things. I had my own internal polling, and while it did show me at times with a 12- or 14-point lead, it also tended to show us a map of undecided voters who were decidedly going to lean away from us.
I thought my floor was in the area of 52 to 55 percent of support, and we seem to have come in somewhere between 53 and 54 percent. That was pretty accurately what we were looking at from September right on through to the very end.
Some moderate House Democrats have been blaming progressive policies like Medicare for All or conversations about police reform for losing their seats. What do you make of the conversation going on within the Democratic Party?
I don’t really care about what [New York Democratic U.S. Rep.] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or anyone else has to say about why some of my colleagues won or lost. I don’t think she really knows anything about my district, or why I was successful, as opposed to why someone in a different district was. They’re comparing apples and oranges.
There is something to be said about — from my perspective — people’s concerns that they got tied to certain issues like defunding the police. Let’s stop and think about that. People have talked about the “defund the police” movement. But when you ask them, “Do you mean that you want to defund the police?” They say, “No, that’s not what we need.”
Explain that to my constituents, because the Republicans did a good job in explaining it as Democrats wanted to literally abolish police forces, or defund them and allow lawlessness in the streets. That, to me, doesn’t seem like effective messaging.