LEWISTON, Maine — The highest-profile Democrat to date entered an uphill 2018 race in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District on Thursday, when Assistant Maine House Minority Leader Jared Golden announced that he’d seek the nomination to run against U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Golden, a 35-year-old Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is looking to make a big jump: He’s only in his second term representing downtown Lewiston in the Maine House of Representatives and he’ll have to hustle to make himself known beyond the vast district’s largest city.

He struck an outsider’s tone at a Thursday morning news conference in Kennedy Park, saying that Washington, D.C., is “rigged” and wondering why “we accept the status quo” when rural Maine towns are being “left behind” with mills disappearing.

“It’s time for new leaders that will fight for you, not the political establishment that has failed us,” Golden said.

Ironically, Poliquin won his first term in 2014 over longtime Democratic legislator Emily Cain while pejoratively dubbing her a career politician and citing his business background. He won for Republicans the 2nd District — which leans slightly Democratic on paper — for the first time in 20 years.

He beat Cain again in 2016 and President Donald Trump won the 2nd District, highlighting Democrats’ recession in rural Maine during the past four years. But national Democrats have kept hammering Poliquin, the only Republican representative from New England.

Poliquin has drawn criticism for voting with fellow House Republicans for their proposal to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act, which a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis said would raise health insurance premiums disproportionately for older residents in rural Maine.

Golden hit him for voting to “take coverage away from thousands of Mainers.” But Poliquin strategist Brent Littlefield hit back in a statement, calling Golden “young” and saying while he “looks good on the surface,” he’s “an extreme Augusta liberal politician.”

He highlighted Golden’s votes against Republican efforts to tighten welfare eligibility and a bill that would have made municipalities enforce federal immigration laws. Golden called them “boilerplate attacks.” National Rifle Association spokesman Lars Dalseide cited Golden’s D grade in 2016 from the group that endorsed Poliquin last year and typically supports Republicans as a reflection of “hostility” toward gun rights.

Golden is an underdog, but his background may allow him to engage on certain issues more effectively than Cain. The Leeds native joined the Marines as a University of Maine at Farmington student in 2002, served for four years in Iraq and Afghanistan, graduated from Bates College in 2011 and later worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican.

He came back to Maine for a brief stint as a staffer for legislative Democrats before running to for the state House of Representatives in 2014. He has won two terms easily in the heavily Democratic district.

Golden has been a key voice on veterans issues in Augusta. They’re also a focus for Poliquin, who is on the committee overseeing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. His district has more than 65,000 veterans.

Before they face off, Golden also has to deal with four challengers in the June 2018 primary — two-time Maine Senate candidate Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, restaurateur Tim Rich of Seal Harbor, bookseller Craig Olson of Islesboro and rural mail carrier Phil Cleaves of Dexter.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...