Dale Crafts, one of three Republicans vying for the second congressional district nomination, waves to supporters at his election night headquarters in Lisbon on Tuesday night. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

LISBON FALLS, Maine — Former state Rep. Dale Crafts was a near-certain bet to win the Republican primary in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District after challengers Adrienne Bennett and Eric Brakey conceded, though a ranked-choice count will officially decide the winner.

Crafts had 45 percent of votes as of around 11 p.m. on Tuesday, according to unofficial results. Bennett, who was the spokesperson for former Gov. Paul LePage, was at 31 percent. Brakey, a former state senator from Auburn, was headed toward a third-place finish at 24 percent. 

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All were shy of the 50 percent threshold required to avoid a ranked-choice count that could take more than a week to officially decide, but Bennett and Brakey called him the nominee in a joint news conference on Wednesday. He will go head-to-head with U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, in a district that is a target for national Republicans, since President Donald Trump won it by 10 points in 2016. 

In a SurveyUSA poll of the race released last week, Crafts was the second choice of 40 percent of likely Republican voters in the 2nd District who ranked Brakey first. The survey also showed that 58 percent of Republican voters indicated they would not rank a second-choice candidate, suggesting the impact of any ranked-choice runoff might be diluted.

Crafts asked supporters at his campaign party in Lisbon Falls on Tuesday night to pray for his success as he enters the general election.

“I never would have imagined being here a year ago,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s God’s will for me to win against Jared Golden. I don’t even know if it’s his will for me to win tonight. All I know is, he wants me to do this.”

Crafts was buoyed by the support of prominent Republican officials, including LePage. His campaign struck the most traditional conservative tone, focusing on his ties to Maine evangelicals and his legislative voting record. He painted himself as a family man called to service and an “overcomer” after a 1983 vehicle crash paralyzed him from the waist down.

Adrienne Bennett, second congressional Republican candidate, joined her volunteers and supporters at Dysart’s on Broadway to watch election results come in. (Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN)

He clashed frequently with libertarian-leaning Brakey on fiscal issues and foreign policy. The latter issue came to the forefront over the weekend after The Intercept published an article on the owner of a Republican consulting firm that employs Crafts’ campaign manager who is also a registered agent for the authoritarian kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Brakey, who entered the race with high name recognition after being the 2018 Republican Senate candidate, said he would endorse Crafts if he agreed to vote to “end the nearly 20 year long war in Afghanistan and other unconstitutional wars.” On Wednesday, he said he had spoken with Crafts, who said he would work toward that goal.

In a Wednesday morning statement conceding the race, Bennett gave Crafts her unqualified endorsement, pledging her full support in the race to unseat Golden.

Maine congressional hopeful Dale Crafts talks to reporters at his election night headquarters in Lisbon on Tuesday night. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN) Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Crafts was the favorite on Election Day as the projected leader in the SurveyUSA poll. He had the highest overall favorability rating of the three candidates with only 7 percent of 2nd District Republicans having an unfavorable opinion of him. Another 12 percent had no opinion. 

Crafts’ establishment support, legislative record and business experience seemed to resonate with voters at the polls across the district on Tuesday. Presque Isle City Councilor Craig Green cited his business and political experience as advantages over the other two candidates.

“He’s the only businessman who is in the race,” Green said. “He’s been elected to the Legislature and he’s had a proven track record of winning.”

BDN writer David Marino Jr. contributed to this report.