In this Nov. 6, 2018, file photo, Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, seeking re-election in the 2nd Congressional District, greets supporters at his election night party in Bangor. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said Wednesday he will run against U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in Maine’s swing 2nd Congressional District next year, setting up a rematch of their narrow ranked-choice voting race in 2018.

The 67-year-old’s return to politics marks the sixth time in the past seven election cycles that the Republican has run for high office in Maine. He unsuccessfully ran in gubernatorial and U.S. Senate primaries before flipping the 2nd District in 2014 after two decades of Democratic control. He won reelection in 2016, then Golden, a Democrat, ousted him three years ago.

Poliquin may find an easier environment for his party in 2022 in a midterm election and Democrats holding only narrow control of Congress. But Golden should be a hard out as a relatively moderate member of his caucus and a durable politician, winning more votes in his 2020 reelection bid than former President Donald Trump did as both won the district.

In recent weeks, Republicans have struggled to make issue-based attacks on Golden stick. While announcing his run on WGAN on Wednesday morning, Poliquin largely made the case that the Democratic majorities in Congress were the main problem in national politics.

“We are in such big trouble in this country because Democrats like Jared Golden are just pushing this country so far to the left,” Poliquin said.

The increasing polarization between the more conservative 2nd District and the safely liberal 1st District has been a major theme in state politics for the last decade. The 2020 presidential election brought the widest split between the two congressional districts in the modern era.

Poliquin cited family reasons for declining a return bid last year, but he has stayed active through party events and radio appearances since then. Former governor Paul LePage, a deeply polarizing figure but the most popular one among conservatives, has urged Poliquin to run, one source said.

The 2018 race between Poliquin and Golden was marked by two issues: health care and guns. Golden focused heavily on Poliquin’s vote the year prior to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Poliquin attacked Golden for past support of gun-control measures in the Legislature and was endorsed by gun-rights groups in a gun-friendly district.

Things have changed since then. Golden, a Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has taken high-profile votes against Democratic gun-control packages. He split his votes on Trump impeachment articles in 2019 before backing Trump’s impeachment in January. He was the only Democrat to oppose his party’s $1.9 billion stimulus bill this year.

While ProPublica said Golden voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, 84 percent of the time during his first term, deep polarization in Congress means that he has been the most moderate member of his Congress in this term, VoteView said.

In his radio interview, Poliquin focused on national Republican concerns, including inflation and calls from progressives to defund police. He hit Golden for his support of Democrats’ long-standing voting and campaign finance overhaul bill that Republicans have hit for overriding many state voting laws and “voting to take away” private health care plans.

But Golden actually backed away from a universal health care bill that he co-sponsored in 2019 that was not voted on. He opposed the stimulus and was one of two Democrats to oppose his party’s high-profile police reform package in March, winning him plaudits from sheriffs here.

In a statement, Golden campaign manager Margaret Reynolds said “nothing has changed” about Poliquin since 2018 and if he gets the nomination, her boss will “look forward to the rematch.”

“In the meantime, the congressman remains focused on doing the job the way it’s supposed to be done,” Reynolds said.

Two Republican legislators have already filed for the race — Sen. Trey Stewart of Presque Isle and Rep. Michael Perkins of Oakland. Poliquin’s entry, set in motion largely during the last week, could make their early paths more difficult.

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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...