In this Feb. 4, 2020, file photo, Eric Brakey, Republican candidate for Congress, attends a news conference in at the State House, in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Three Republicans who want to flip a highly competitive congressional seat in Maine think the key to winning is to appeal to fans of President Donald Trump in rural parts of the state, even as the president’s approval numbers dip around the country.

Former state Sen. Eric Brakey, real estate agent and former television news reporter Adrienne Bennett and former state Rep. Dale Crafts all want to unseat Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. The vast, mostly rural district is geographically the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River, and Trump won it decisively in 2016.

The three Republicans face each other in the July 14 primary. They’ve used debates, public appearances and social media to present themselves to voters as firm allies of Trump who would work to further his national agenda if elected.

Brakey, who served in the Maine Senate for four years and favors limited government, said Golden “disrespected the people of the second district by voting to impeach the president.” Golden was the sole congressman who cast a split vote on the two decisions about whether to impeach Trump.

Brakey said he also supports Trump’s “American first” approach on foreign policy. But Bennett said her work in support of Trump’s campaign in 2016 lends her greater credibility. Bennett also worked for seven years as press secretary to former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican and ardent Trump ally.

Bennett said she backs Trump’s approach on immigration and holding China accountable for taking advantage of the U.S. on trade.

“What does it mean for Maine? It means we should bring back manufacturing and bring back those jobs that have gone overseas,” she said.

Crafts, who served in the Maine Legislature for eight years, said he’s the best candidate for the district because he, like Trump, has a background in business. Crafts broke into the real estate industry at 19, more than four decades ago.

He said he’s in step with Trump’s principles of reducing regulations, growing jobs and shrinking the government.

“I think he’s a patriot for America. I think he wants to get back to what made America great,” Crafts said.

The 2nd Congressional District has been hotly contested in recent elections. Trump won its electoral vote in the 2016 presidential election. Maine is one of two states to apportion electoral votes by district.

The district figures to be in play for Trump again this year, though his approval nationwide has taken a hit amid the coronavirus pandemic. A June poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found a majority of Americans think Trump is exacerbating tensions in a moment of crisis.

Golden, the 2nd District incumbent, defeated former Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a razor-thin race in 2018 using ranked-choice voting. Golden’s office didn’t return a call seeking comment about the primary.

Ranked-choice voting is unlikely to play a role in this year’s 2nd Congressional District election because third-party candidates haven’t emerged. However, Republicans will be able to use it in the primary. The ranked voting system redistributes voters’ second choices after the last-place finisher is eliminated.

Story by Patrick Whittle.