Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, speaks to reporters Sunday after a town hall meeting at the Dover City Hall in Dover, New Hampshire. Credit: Mary Altaffer | AP

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District said Thursday he is endorsing longshot U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in the Democratic presidential race, becoming the first member of Congress to back the Colorado senator who didn’t qualify for the March primary ballot in Maine.

It’s an unconventional move for Golden. Bennet has less than 1 percent support in national polls aggregated by RealClearPolitics. He has campaigned heavily in New Hampshire ahead of Tuesday’s primary, but he is barely registering in Maine’s neighboring state as well.

Golden, a Democrat, represents a Republican-leaning district won by President Donald Trump in 2016. He was the only member of the House to split his December votes on impeaching the Republican president, backing Democrats’ abuse of power article while opposing a second one accusing Trump of obstructing Congress.

His endorsement was first reported by Politico on Thursday. In an interview with the Bangor Daily News, Golden said he has admired the senator since 2013. At that time, Golden was a staffer for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bennet was a leader of an immigration reform compromise that failed. Golden also referenced Bennet’s work on bills to fight gerrymandering.

Before the endorsement, Golden said he reached out to Bennet to discuss the race recently and the two agreed on the candidate’s strategy of going “all-in” on New Hampshire. While he noted that Bennet faces long odds, he said he wouldn’t be endorsing him if victory was impossible.

“I think it’s important to be on the record with my honest opinion,” Golden said. “I think he’s the right guy for the time.”

Golden said the vote was not a protest of other candidates, saying he didn’t know who he would vote for in the Maine primary. He criticized the Democratic National Committee for dropping donor thresholds for candidates to qualify for a February debate ahead of the Nevada caucuses.

That opened the door for former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire who is self-funding a massive campaign in states including Maine that will hold Democratic primaries in March or later, to qualify. Golden said if the party is going to drop those rules, it might as well let all candidates — including Bennet — compete on debate stages.

In a statement given to Politico, Golden recalled a recent conversation with a voter who called Bennet “calm, thoughtful, honest and humble.” Golden said that person added, “In other words, he doesn’t stand a chance.” The congressman said that was emblematic of cynicism in politics.

The Maine congressman faces a difficult re-election race in 2020. Three Republicans are vying in a June primary for the party’s nomination to face Golden in June — former state Sen. Eric Brakey, former state Rep. Dale Crafts and Adrienne Bennett, who was a spokeswoman for former Gov. Paul LePage.

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...