BANGOR, Maine — The toss-up race in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is headed to a ranked-choice voting count, with U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin holding a slight lead over Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden.
With roughly 91.5 percent of precincts reporting to the Bangor Daily News by 6 p.m. Wednesday, Poliquin, a two-term Republican from Oakland who won the seat in 2014 after two decades of Democratic control, led Golden, a Democrat, by about 700 votes.
Because neither Golden nor Poliquin gained a majority, the people who ranked the two independents in the race first will decide the race in ranked-choice counting, which would be run by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office.
Lawyer Tiffany Bond of Portland and educator Will Hoar of Southwest Harbor received little support in the race, but they owned the gap between the two candidates on Wednesday. Bond had 6 percent of first-place votes to Hoar’s 2 percent.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Dunlap confirmed that the contest would go to a new round of ballot tabulation under Maine’s 2016 ranked-choice voting law. Ballots from all precincts in the district will be collected from municipal clerks and delivered Thursday to Augusta. A new tabulation of those ballots is scheduled to begin Friday.
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The campaign was the most expensive U.S. House race in Maine history, with the candidates and their allies spending more than $20 million on the race. As polls opened, the contest was expected to be a fulcrum over partisan control of the U.S. House of Representatives, but Democrats won the chamber on Tuesday without Golden’s help.
Early Wednesday morning, a hopeful Golden addressed a crowd of supporters at his election night party at the Franco Center in Lewiston, saying while there would be no immediate final result, his campaign is “winning it right now.”
“Every single place I’ve gone, there have been people who are excited for a new generation of leadership right here in Maine and in the United States,” he said.
At Dysart’s in Bangor, Poliquin told supporters “we’ve got a long way to go.” He left his party without answering questions from reporters.
“We’re not going to get a final result tonight, but you folks were terrific,” the Republican said. “We’ll have a result as soon as we can.”
Tuesday’s election culminated months of bickering between Poliquin and Golden in debates and on the airwaves, where both launched hyperbolized attacks undercutting the other. TV viewers in the 2nd District were inundated with 6,300 ads during a nine-day stretch in October — more ads than constituents in any other House race district in the country.
Golden, a tattooed, 36-year-old Marine veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, harnessed Democratic momentum to out-raise the incumbent with $4.6 million to Poliquin’s $3.7 million as of mid-October. Outside money in the race also favored the Democrat.
Poliquin, 65, tried to paint Golden as politically and culturally out of touch with the district, which has leaned Republican since 2014, giving its electoral vote to President Donald Trump in 2016. In a district where voters rejected expanding background checks in 2016, Poliquin has repeatedly highlighted Golden’s D rating the National Rifle Association against his A rating.
Golden took to spotlighting Poliquin’s votes on health care. Many of his ads focused on the incumbent’s vote to replace the Affordable Care Act with a Republican health care plan that a Congressional Budget Office estimate said would make coverage more expensive for people with pre-existing conditions.
A Poliquin loss would be historic. An incumbent hasn’t lost a re-election bid in Maine’s 2nd District in 102 years — when the district was only a geographic sliver of what it is now. Republicans had held control of the House at large since 2010.