Candidates for office at all levels of government often make the same pitch: their election is the most important ever. It’s a type of hyperbole driven by incentives — candidates don’t gain many campaign volunteers or donors by arguing the stakes of their elections are low.
However, here in New England there is a contest for the US House that some experts think is the most competitive in the United States. That statement might be a superlative, but it is not hyperbole.
The region’s northernmost House district, Maine’s 2nd, has been interesting to political observers for some time. As demographics and politics have changed, the district is now Republican-leaning. Donald Trump won the district twice. Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is also the last place a Republican won a House seat in all of New England, in 2016.
The incumbent now is Democrat Jared Golden, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, and a former Susan Collins staffer and state legislator. On paper, the second-term 39-year-old is the most vulnerable member of Congress in the nation. Indeed, the current ratings from the Cook Political Report list Golden’s seat as the only one out of the 435 seats in the House currently listed as a tossup. Similarly, the analysts at Inside Elections also rate the race a tossup.
The reasons are pretty self-evident. Trump won the district by more than seven points. No other Democrat represents a district that went for Trump by that big of a margin. Further, 2022 is a midterm election, which historically punishes the party that controls the White House — in this case a Democrat like Golden. Third, unlike in 2020, Republicans have a well-known, well-financed candidate. That would be Bruce Poliquin, who held the seat for two terms before Golden beat him in the 2018 Democratic wave.
It was a contest so close that it was decided by ranked-choice voting, a fact that led Poliquin to contest the election in court.
For the fund-raising period that ended in September, Poliquin raised an eye-popping $883,000, a signal of the national interest in this race. This was more than the $675,000 Golden raised in the same months. That said, it was Poliquin’s first fund-raising quarter where there is a lot of low-hanging fruit to collect, compared to Golden, who has been raising money for the past year.
Because of that, Golden’s campaign has roughly $400,000 more in the bank than Poliquin.
While these circumstances seem to suggest Golden is a goner, there are reasons why analysts consider the race still a tossup. Golden, after all, won the district in 2020 by six points despite the fact that both Trump and Republican Senator Susan Collins won the same district by solid amounts.
Further, with redistricting just completed, the new Maine 2nd Congressional District got a smidge more Democratic, with the inclusion of Augusta to a map that includes all points north of the state’s capital, some points west, and parts of Downeast Maine. Under the new map, Trump would have only won the district by six points, instead of by more than seven.
Lastly, Golden can make a credible case that he has been a thorn in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s side. He has never voted for her to be speaker and he is among a group of moderates who have held back votes to pass bills important to Pelosi and President Biden, namely a massive reconciliation bill. He also famously never endorsed the Democrat running against Collins in one of the most high-profile Senate contests last year.
Republicans need to flip just five seats to take back the US House majority. They may get those seats just through redistricting, which has Republican states gaining House seats that Democratic states have lost.
So it is hard to pinpoint this particular seat as the one that will single-handedly decide control of the House. At the same time, if there was ever a place in the country where that statement could be made, it is here.