This combination of file photos show U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2017, left, and state Rep. Jared Golden in 2018, right, in Maine. New England's last remaining Republican congressman, Poliquin, ended his legal battle Monday, Dec. 24, 2018, challenging the election of his Democratic opponent under Maine's new voting system. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel will be in Saco for a fundraiser this evening.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: ​​“Maine’s 207 area code is dwindling rapidly, and while there may be a time when Maine has to accept a new area code, it would be a shame for one company’s practices to hasten that time if it has no actual need for the numbers,” said Phil Bartlett, chair of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which is investigating whether Verizon is unnecessarily tying up some 207 numbers. Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

The issues have changed, but the political environment may have as well, making for another tantalizing race in Maine’s swing congressional district. Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin ended a long period of speculation on Wednesday when he confirmed that he would enter the race against Rep. Jared Golden in the 2nd District. Poliquin will look to avenge his narrow loss in a rematch of their ranked-choice voting race from 2018, though two other Republicans are still running primary campaigns.

Republicans see hope to flip the seat back in a midterm election year that is historically bad for the party in control. That would be Democrats, who only have a 50-50 Senate majority and a nearly as tenuous hold on the House. The 2nd District is a perennial candidate to flip as former President Donald Trump won it twice in 2016 and 2020.

But that cold analysis sidesteps some of the facts on the ground, including that Golden, a Democrat and a Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has proven to be a relatively moderate caucus member and a durable politician during his three-year tenure so far.

In an interview with WGAN, Poliquin hit national Republican talking points, including a surge of unaccompanied children and families at the southern border, inflation and pandemic unemployment benefits backed by Democrats and calls from progressives to defund police. But Golden took high-profile votes against his party’s most recent stimulus and their signature police-reform package as well. 

Guns were also a major issue in the last Poliquin-Golden race with the Republican winning endorsements from gun-rights groups, but the incumbent largely neutralized the issue in his 2020 reelection campaign after opposing Democratic gun-control measures and winning high marks from the same groups that campaigned against him four years ago.

The last race between the two was the most expensive race in Maine history to that point and another one in 2022 is likely to exceed that, bringing tension between the national political winds and more unique individual and local factors to the forefront. 

The Maine politics top 3

— “Feds pick up efforts to forgive small-business loans with many in Maine waiting to apply,” Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: “The federal loan program, which sent more than $3 billion to Maine businesses overall, was a lifesaver for many small businesses that were able to use the money to keep paying employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. But both the program and the forgiveness application have been fraught with confusion as the SBA intermittently tweaked the requirements to simplify them.”

— “County treasurer and Bangor school board member arrested on child porn charge,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “[John] Hiatt vowed to fight the [earlier] stalking and harassment charges and declined to resign from  either elected position. He said Monday on his Facebook page that he would start his reelection campaign for school committee Wednesday when nomination petitions become available.

— “US CDC now recommends masks in 5 Maine counties, including Penobscot,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Waldo County maintains by far the highest rate of new cases in the state after 29 new cases were reported there Tuesday. The county, with a population a bit under 40,000, has seen 146 new cases per 100,000 people over the past week, making it the only county in Maine to be designated as seeing ‘high’ transmission.”

King signaling he might sink Biden’s ATF pick

The president’s pick to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was already in jeopardy. Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine has told President Joe Biden’s administration that he is currently not supporting nominee David Chipman, according to Politico. At least two other senators, Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Jon Tester, D-Montana, are currently undecided. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is lobbying King to oppose Chipman.

Chipman, who has prior experience in the firearm bureau and is a senior policy advisor at the anti-gun violence advocacy group Giffords, has run into resistance as the National Rifle Association has hammered him, turning off most Republicans and putting centrist Democrats in a tight spot. 

King has reportedly met with Chipman and will speak with the Newtown Action Alliance today to discuss the nomination. It is not clear if that will sway the Maine senator’s mind — he told Politico he is focused on the infrastructure bill.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at candrews@bangordailynews.com, jpiper@bangordailynews.com or mshepherd@bangordailynews.com.

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...