In this Aug. 20, 2020, file photo, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden talks at the top of Black Mountain in Rumford after hiking with the Summit Project. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District was in the national spotlight again last week as Democrats attempted to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill as well as a massive social spending measure.

On Tuesday, Golden defended his role in delaying a vote on that bigger spending package. But progressive groups plan to continue pressuring Golden on an issue with potential implications for the 2022 elections.

For months, Golden and a handful of moderate Democrats have used their voting power in the closely divided House as a negotiating tool with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And the strategy paid off when, late Friday night, the House passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long and the fact that we had to fight so hard for it is, I think, part of what many people across this country are tired of in regard to a Congress that is unable to do big things,” Golden said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Golden said the infrastructure bill contains critical funding for Maine, including an estimated $1.3 billion for roads, $390 million to remove hazardous lead pipes in drinking water systems, $300 million for broadband internet and hundreds of millions of dollars for climate-related projects.

The small group of moderates forced the House leadership to delay a vote on the more controversial $1.7 trillion spending plan that is a key part of Democrats and President Joe Biden’s social agenda. Pelosi and the House’s sizable progressive wing had wanted to vote on the two bills together. But the moderates, whose votes are critical to passage of the Build Back Better plan, insisted on seeing a nonpartisan budget analysis that will take weeks to complete.

While Golden called progressives’ insistence on a paired vote a “failed strategy,” left-leaning groups and activists in Maine and across the country couldn’t disagree more. And they view Golden as delaying progress on such key issues as free universal preschool, paid family leave and massive investment aimed at addressing climate change.

“You know, this is the exact sort of thing that we elected him to support in the first place, so it is frustrating when it doesn’t go forward like we had hoped,” said the Rev. Stephen Carnahan of Auburn.

Carnahan has been writing letters, collecting petition signatures, organizing phone calls and staging events outside of Golden’s district offices. He is also a member of the Maine People’s Alliance, which is one of the state’s largest progressive activist groups.

But Carnahan said many parts of this bill are 40 years overdue.

“We think this bill is just simply too important to just let it slide,” Carnahan said. “And he is a very crucial vote to getting it through, so we are going to continue working to influence him and hopefully get his vote.”

Progressives sense that the clock is ticking on their policy agenda ahead of next year’s midterm elections. And last week’s Republican victory in the race for governor of Virginia — an increasingly blue state — has underscored Democratic concerns about holding onto their ultra-slim majorities in the House and Senate next year.

That means Golden keeping his seat could be key to Democrats keeping control of the House. Maine’s conservative 2nd District race has become a perennial national battleground and next year is expected to be no different. Republican Bruce Poliquin, who represented the district for two terms before being displaced by Golden in 2018, is running again and Republicans are already working hard to paint Golden as pawn to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and progressives.

Some progressive activists, meanwhile, have warned they may campaign for Golden. But it is unclear how those dynamics will play out in the towns across the sprawling 2nd District.

“The political calculations and machinations that politicos live and die by aren’t necessarily even coming into play in small towns, whether you are talking about northern Aroostook County where I’m from or old Franco mill towns in Central Maine, let alone in Washington County,” said Chace Jackson, an Allagash native who is also the son of Maine Senate President Troy Jackson and a friend of Jared Golden’s.

Jackson said while he understands pressure campaigns and the role they serve, he said the 2nd District has had to learn “a lot of brutal realities in politics and in the economy.” The rural towns across the district are experiencing population loss, school closures and other economic challenges as mills or other employers are shuttered — and it’s those realities, Jackson said, that are at the forefront of many local residents’ concerns.

While Jackson said he hasn’t agreed with every one of Rep. Golden’s decisions, he doesn’t doubt that he is putting the sentiments of his constituents first.

“Jared’s what some might say contrarian nature on votes that have come up before him I think are indicative of a person that comes from communities like ours where have to be pretty scrappy, fight for every last inch of what you and your neighbors deserve and what you think your community would want,” Jackson said.

For his part, Golden said he has no doubt that his constituents support his focus on the infrastructure bill. He also said he believes they support his slower, detail-oriented approach to how the government plans to spend trillions of dollars. As for the $1.7 trillion social spending bill, the Washington Post noted earlier this week that Golden was one of two moderates who did not pledge to support the package after seeing the budget analysis. House leaders can only afford to lose three Democratic votes in the face of Republican opposition.

“This bill has still got room for improvement, and I am going to keep working to make it better until it is time for the final vote,” Golden said. “And when that vote comes, we are going to look at the whole and make a final decision.”

Progressive groups, meanwhile, plan to continue their pressure campaign on Golden to support the bill.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.