Let’s daydream together about an election where the candidates talk about why they are running in real terms, not platitudes. Where they don’t even mention their opponents but simply lay out their plans for how they would serve in the office they are seeking. Where they tell us why they think they are qualified for the office instead of why they think their opponent is not. Wouldn’t it be lovely?
Jared Golden’s campaign is testing that water. A two-term state representative, Golden won his first congressional campaign in 2018 after the application of ranked choice voting to election night results that gave neither of the two top candidates an outright majority. His opponent did his best to vacate the results in the courts, without success. This time Golden is the incumbent.
Golden’s path in Congress has not been routine. At the outset he joined a group of House Democrats calling for a change in leadership, saying: “We need to pass the torch to new leaders in the Democratic Party.” He did not sign on to a group letter pledging to vote against Nancy Pelosi but said at the time: “It’s your vote, not signing a piece of paper, that counts.” He was true to his word and voted against Pelosi, who won despite the effort to unseat her.
Congressman Golden also divided his impeachment votes, voting in favor of charging the president with abuse of power but against the article charging obstruction of a government investigation.
His bio indicates that after a year at the University of Maine he interrupted his education following the 9/11 attack to serve in the military, service that included combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he returned to civilian life, he attended and graduated from Bates College, then served as a committee staffer for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins before coming back to Maine to work in the House Democratic Office in the Legislature before being elected a legislator himself. He won a leadership position in his second term.
Military service and his time in Collins’ office marked him as a different kind of Democrat. In his 2018 race, he came across as angular, edgy, a veteran with a thousand-yard stare. Some of his ads featured him in uniform, gun at the ready. This was all to the good in the 2nd Congressional District.
After two years in Congress, Golden is coming into his own. He is more relaxed, with ads that show a different Golden. In one, his wife dishes out a little teasing on who he works for at home. Golden responds with the universal grin and shrug of a husband who knows when to zip the lip. In another, we listen in on two Mainers in lawn chairs sitting in a garage with the door wide open, a classic roadside tableau in rural Maine, as they debate the issues. They don’t agree with each other on anything but they both support Golden. He is amused.
He has reason to smile. Polls show him with a lead over his opponent, Republican Dale Crafts. Crafts served four terms in the Maine House but is not identified with any particular issues and his name is not widely known. His gutsy move to jump from an airplane in support of veterans was largely swallowed up in the din of the presidential election.
Golden’s ads leave you with that “Maine, the way life should be” feeling. It should be noted that so far Dale Crafts’ ads are also aimed more at his election assets than at tearing down his opponent, though there are other ads on his behalf playing the “Jaws” music and warning of the dire consequences of a Golden win. A slippery slope can be seen ahead when one of Crafts’ chief supporters, former Governor Paul LePage, gets the microphone.
The high road is a blessed change from the bitter division of Maine’s U.S. Senate race. There it’s all rancor, with grim black-and-white photos of the evil opposition who is set to take your house, your health care and your bank account.
People who know about these things, meaning the people who are now employed without pause from one election cycle to the next, would have us believe that a mean-spirited, low, vengeful, snide and discouraging campaign is a winning strategy. At least we haven’t seen a roly–poly gent in a bowler hat with a big cigar between his thick fingers. Yet.
We all say we hate these ads but given the money spent on them, somebody thinks they work. A candidate who can maintain a messaging strategy that leaves voters feeling a little less icky is a candidate worth considering. How strange that electioneers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on negative ads that repel us.