Rep. Mike Perkins, R-Oakland, (left) presents a Spirit of America award to Dana Wrigley of Oakland in this 2017 photo. Credit: Courtesy of the Town of Oakland

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Republican exited the 2022 primary in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District on Monday to run for state Senate while refusing to endorse either the former congressman who is the party establishment’s favorite or an upstart challenger.

The move puts state Rep. Mike Perkins, R-Oakland, in what is assured to be a competitive race for a Waterville-area legislative seat in 2022. He cited continued health issues from a recent bout with COVID-19 that left him hospitalized for nine days as the main reason for leaving the congressional race, although his congressional bid gained little financial traction.

It leaves former Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Caratunk selectman Liz Caruso as the best-known candidates vying for the right to face U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who ousted Poliquin in a narrow 2018 race. Golden is one of national Republicans’ top targets in 2022.

Perkins told conservative radio host Mike Violette of WSKW that he still thought he could have beaten Poliquin in a primary, but the legislative race will be easier to manage as he recovers. He said no prominent Republicans should endorse in primaries because it divides the grass roots.

“As Republicans, the only way we’re going to win is united,” he said. “We need to get united.”

Poliquin has looked to consolidate full Republican support during his return bid. After he announced his return bid in August, state Sen. Trey Stewart of Presque Isle left the race to back the former congressman. Caruso, a notable opponent of the $1 billion Central Maine Power Co. corridor, entered the race in November. Two political newcomers, Garrett Swazey of Bangor and Sean Joyce of Newburgh, have also filed to run in the Republican primary.

The Waterville-area Senate seat looks like a top battleground as well. Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, who regularly resisted well-funded Democratic efforts to oust him, is term limited. No Democrat has filed to run for the seat yet, which usually pits voters in the Democratic-leaning city against the more rural and conservative towns around it.

Perkins ran an active campaign for Congress, but there was little reason to think he would upset Poliquin come next June. His campaign raised just $46,000 as of Sept. 30, while the former congressman marshaled state and national support to haul in $880,000 in just two months.

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...