A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
An interview with the conservative Breitbart News provides a good illustration of how former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is plotting to get his old seat back in Maine’s 2nd District.
It is emerging as a by-the-book Republican campaign putting costs and inflation at the center and linking his opponent, Rep. Jared Golden, to national Democrats.
That is not such an easy task with Golden, who has taken high-profile votes against his party on the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act and the failed $1.7 trillion “Build Back Better” plan, as well as gun control and police reform proposals, the latter of which helped him lock down an endorsement from the Maine Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police last month.
Poliquin answered votes like that with a refrain that Maine political observers will be familiar with: “He’s not a moderate.”
“He sells himself that way, but a moderate would not be part of spending trillions and trillions of dollars that is printed or borrowed that is driving up inflation,” he told Breitbart.
We have seen this before. As Democrats warred with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in 2020, their central point was that the Republican was an integral part of her team. Even if she did not explicitly support all of their policy goals, her votes for judicial nominees advanced them and voting for her was a vote for Mitch McConnell to control the Senate, the argument went.
“Not a moderate” was an often-used term to describe her as well. But she won. Moderation is becoming less and less a part of politics, particularly in Congress, where bills are mostly brought to the floor only if leaders think they will prevail or if they want to put members on the record. We are even seeing swing votes disappear from the Maine Legislature.
The definition of “moderate” is subjective, but if there are true moderates left in Washington, Golden and Collins are good candidates. Both are the members of their caucuses closest to the political center in the current Congress, according to VoteView. Poliquin was more strident during his two terms in Congress.
The two delegation members still generally align with their parties. Golden and progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, voted together 85 percent of the time in the last Congress, just a shade under the 87 percent alignment between Collins and McConnell, ProPublica says. We are living in an era where even that scant level of disagreement is high, plus many of Golden’s swing votes came on many big issues of the day.
Early polling from the spring showed Golden in a good position and drawing notable swing support. But the national environment looks skewed against Democrats, with FiveThirtyEight only calling the incumbent a narrow favorite in a toss-up race.
Poliquin seems to be betting that party affiliation will be an anvil for Golden in the conservative-leaning 2nd District. As we have seen before, that is not always a safe bet.