Jared Golden, democrat candidate for 2nd district, thanks his supporters in a speech shortly before midnight on Nov. 6 in Lewiston. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

AUGUSTA, Maine — Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden defeated U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a ranked-choice count in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District that finished on Thursday and is the subject of an uphill challenge in federal court by the Republican incumbent.

If the result stands, Golden, a 36-year-old Democrat from Lewiston, would be the first person to defeat an incumbent in the largely rural 2nd District’s modern-era configuration after it went hard in 2016 for President Donald Trump, a Republican.

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“Mainers want a new generation of leaders who will fix our dysfunctional political system so that it serves the people first and foremost, and I’m going to do my part to give them what they deserve,” Golden said during a victory speech Thursday in Augusta.

Democrats clinched a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in last week’s election, flipping the chamber from Republican control. If Golden’s victory withstands a legal challenge by Poliquin and three other Republican voters, Democrats would likely control at least 231 seats to Republicans’ 199. Five other races were still undecided as of Thursday.

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The race between Golden and Poliquin was heavily nationalized and became the most expensive U.S. House election in Maine history. The candidates and outside groups spent nearly $20.6 million on the race by Election Day. More than 58 percent came from Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Poliquin outpolled Golden by roughly 2,000 votes on Election Day, winning 46.4 percent of votes to Golden’s 45.5 percent. But Maine’s ranked-choice voting system — enshrined by voters in 2016 — kicked in because neither candidate won a majority in the first round. Another 8 percent of voters — 23,000 in total — ranked one of the two independents in the race first.

So the election came down to the later-round choices from supporters of Tiffany Bond of Portland and Will Hoar of Southwest Harbor. Just after noon Thursday, Golden was declared the winner as a result of that ranked-choice tabulation with 50.53 percent of votes in the second round to Poliquin’s 49.47 percent in an announcement by Dunlap.

Golden received 44.5 percent of the Bond or Hoar voters, with 20.4 percent going to Poliquin and 35.1 percent of them expressing no preference between the party candidates. Their ballots were “exhausted” — or effectively tossed out — in the count between Poliquin and Golden.

Now the focus shifts to U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker, who on Wednesday heard arguments in Poliquin’s lawsuit against Dunlap over ranked-choice voting, which claims that the method violates the U.S. Constitution and other areas of law.

Jared Golden News Conference

Congressman-elect Jared Golden is holding a news conference after being declared the District 2 winner using rank-choice voting.

Posted by WGME CBS 13 News, Portland on Thursday, 15 November 2018

About 90 minutes before the ranked ballots were to be tallied, Walker denied Poliquin’s request for an order to stop the count. That cleared the way for the next round of ranked-choice voting to take place in Augusta and dealt a major blow to Poliquin’s overall legal bid.

In Walker’s decision, he said Poliquin had not demonstrated a likelihood that they would prove that ranked-choice voting was unconstitutional, and there was “a certain degree of irony” in Poliquin’s proposed remedy, because Bond and Hoar voters likely expected ranked votes to count.

Poliquin, 65, of Oakland, made millions in the investment management industry before turning to politics in 2010. He ran unsuccessfully for governor that year before riding into the state treasurer’s office behind Gov. Paul LePage and Republican majorities in the Legislature.

That’s gone now. Republicans lost the Blaine House to Attorney General Janet Mills last week, and her election swept Democratic majorities into power in both chambers of the Legislature. Democrats held the 2nd District for 20 years before Poliquin won in 2014.

Poliquin beat former Democratic legislator Emily Cain then and in 2016, but he met his match in Golden. While Poliquin serves on the committee overseeing the Department of Veterans Affairs, Golden is a tattooed Marine veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who hammered Poliquin on a vote to replace the Affordable Care Act with a Republican plan.

The rising star will now have to prove that he has staying power in a district that shifted from slightly Democratic-leaning to slightly Republican-leaning by party registration since 2014. Golden has said he will not vote to install House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, as House speaker and has staked out a more moderate stance on guns than most in his party.

“Our movement and our party is about working people,” Golden said. “It’s about health care, higher wages and Social Security. It’s about the the promises we’ve made to the working people in this country — promises I intend to keep.”

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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...