Just six months from the last congressional election, attention is turning to the next one in November 2022. Republicans think they smell blood in the water around Democratic Congressman Jared Golden. That could be premature.
Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is mostly rural, covering about 80 percent of the vast and less populated parts of Maine. Golden has won the 2nd Congressional District twice now. A second win is usually enough to secure a lock on the seat but Golden knows full well that this is not a certainty.
His first race saw him up against two-term incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin, along with two write-in candidates. None of the four got a majority of the vote. For the first time ever, ranked choice voting decided the outcome of a congressional race. In the first incumbent upset since 1916, Golden took Poliquin’s seat 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent.
In Golden’s second congressional race, his opponent was former Republican state representative Dale Crafts who had served four terms in Augusta. President Donald Trump’s “complete and total endorsement” was not enough to get Crafts over the finish line. Golden won the race outright with 53 percent of the vote in the first round.
No Republican candidate has gone as far as announcing for the 2nd CD yet, but state Rep. Mike Perkins of Oakland has let it be known via Facebook that he is “opening an exploratory committee for my desire to run for U.S. House of Representatives…”
This could be a rerun of the Golden-Crafts matchup. Like Crafts, Perkins is starting out with little or no name recognition outside of his home legislative district. Perkins is in his third term in Augusta. He is currently the ranking member of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee but has neither chaired a committee nor served in leadership.
That’s OK—the same is true for many members of the House. But the problem is that a legislator from the rank and file does not have the network among party activists and fundraisers to pull off a run for Congress.
Perkins has a single bill this session — to amend storage requirements for consumer fireworks. He sponsored two bills in the 129th Legislature and none in the 128th. That’s three bills in three terms, all very narrowly focused. Mind you, this could be an improvement over the typical legislator who submits bills with abandon, flooding sessions with legislative proposals that go nowhere. However, when one has ambitions for higher office, there is usually a track record of involvement with major policy issues and a couple of bills of one’s own.
In contrast, Jared Golden is now well-established. Though he is from Lewiston, the southern edge of the 2nd CD, he has made it clear that voters should not expect a southern Maine mentality nor the Democratic party line from him. He is comfortable in his political skin, edgy, with a sense of watchfulness that keeps his military service in the forefront of voters’ minds.
It will take more than Rep. Perkins’ assertion that people “deserve better representation in Washington, D.C.” to unseat Jared Golden. Golden has gone to great lengths to assure his district that he is working with them in mind, going out on a political limb more than once. He opposed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for re-election for speaker. He was one of just two House Democrats who voted against gun control measures, and he voted against the coronavirus relief package.
Golden won his seat for a second time with a 6 percent advantage, a margin one news report called “close.” Really? Victories much narrower than that have been called landslides. Golden has made no secret of his approach to politics, saying: “People want their representatives to represent them, not a party platform.”
Before he takes on Michael Perkins or any other general election opponent, Golden has a primary challenger in Michael Sutton of Bangor. Sutton is coming at Golden from the left, playing to liberal voters dismayed at some of Golden’s positions. Sutton has an election track record that suggests he will not be much of a threat.
Michael Perkins maintains that “politicians in Washington have forgotten where they came from.” Jared Golden is acutely aware of where he comes from, or at least of who he represents. He has worked with a fierce certainty about his district’s predilections because they align with his values, not because of a political calculation.
Perkins has said he will take a “one of us for us” approach, a campaign slogan sufficiently awkward to make a marked distinction between himself and the straight-ahead Golden. Republicans are declaring the seat an opportunity for a flip, and regardless of who their candidate is, they will make a full-court press with the backing of major national resources. Perkins will need every bit of that.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.