The Portland Phoenix

Politics & Other Mistakes: Disagreementland

If there’s one thing everybody in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District can agree on, it’s – nothing.

The sprawling blob that takes up most of the state is composed of dozens of disparate constituencies with little in common.

The southern end of the district is essentially part of the Portland suburbs. The northern end is essentially part of Canada. The coast encompasses pockets of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Lewiston-Auburn and Bangor are about as different as two metropolitan areas can be. Western Maine’s economic system is composed of off-the-books businesses providing services both essential and criminal. Piscataquis County is busy trying to return to the Stone Age.

To be a successful politician in this morass of diverse – and divisive – opinions about everything from gun control to birth control to self-control requires the sort of flexibility that’s fallen out of fashion in national political circles. Unlike the overwhelmingly liberal southern part of the state, the 2nd CD leans to the right, but not far enough to provide candidates with comfortable knee-jerk positions on most issues.

Trump twice carried the district by comfortable margins, but in the last two elections, a Democrat won the congressional seat. In spite of her anti-Trump votes, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins remains popular – but so do an assortment of legislators ranging from neo-fascists to proto-commies, with a healthy dose of loopy libertarians and even the occasional semi-normal person.

The aforementioned Democratic congressman, Jared Golden, has held this seat for two terms by establishing a voting record that would be considered highly eccentric if he were from anywhere else. Golden defies his party’s leadership more than any other representative. In any given week, he casts votes that dismay liberals and conservatives alike. He has mastered the art of seeming both brilliant and stupid, often at the same time.

In that, he’s as close to being in tune with his district as it’s possible to get.

Nevertheless, the national GOP is convinced Golden can be defeated in next year’s election. All they need is a candidate who can appeal to sizable segments of the population that don’t agree on anything.

To find that rare beast, Republicans will likely engage in a primary campaign centered around debating which of them is Trumpier-than-thou. Also, they’ll all be courting the endorsement of former GOP Gov. Paul LePage, who’s seeking to regain his old seat.

It was LePage’s backing that propelled little-known Dale Crafts, a former state representative, to the Republican nomination in 2020. Crafts lost to Golden, but by less than polling predicted, so he’s considering another run. But his anemic campaign style makes his prospects in the general election questionable.

Appeals to: the religious right, LePage (maybe).

Michael Perkins is a three-term state representative from Oakland, who has always voted in lockstep with Republican leadership. He’s a former cop and owns a driving school. Perkins has been shaking hands this summer but has yet to generate much buzz. His Facebook page contains a rant against “far-left radicals” and “Marxists.”

Appeals to: angry white men, ticks.

State Sen. Harold “Trey” Stewart of Presque Isle is an energetic, 27-year-old campaigner, who has knocked off two Democratic incumbents in his brief legislative career. Stewart, who is going to law school, has been a reliably conservative voice but has shown occasional flashes of independence, working with the other party on welfare reform and supporting an independent investigation of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.

Appeals to: young Republicans (both of them), moderate Republicans (all three of them).

Bruce Poliquin held this seat for two terms until he was defeated by Golden in 2018. Poliquin rarely talked to the media when he was in office and has continued that practice in private life. During his time in Congress, he used a summer camp and a rented room as his official addresses in the 2nd CD, because his real home is a mansion in Georgetown, which is in the 1st District.

Appeals to: rich people, folks who’d prefer not to know what their congressman is doing.

In a district with no agreement on what it wants in a representative, it remains to be seen if any of these guys can fit in.

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