Jared Golden smiles while speaking with a supporter.
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, speaks to a supporter on Nov. 1, 2022, at the State House in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District looked set to survive national backlash against Democrats to win a third term in a rematch with former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Golden had 48.5 percent of first-choice votes to Poliquin’s 44.7 percent as of 1:17 a.m. Wednesday, according to unofficial tallies from more than 80 percent of reporting cities and towns in the district. Independent Tiffany Bond received 6.8 percent of first-choice votes.

If the incumbent falls shy of winning a majority of first-choice votes, the race will go to a ranked-choice count. Golden is likely to gain most of the voters who ranked Bond first, according to a SurveyUSA poll released last week by FairVote and the Bangor Daily News. It puts him in a strong position to win in a count likely set for next wee k.

Golden had no election night party and watched the results come in with family and staff in Leeds. In a statement released Wednesday morning, he said the tallies were “encouraging” and that he expected a ranked-choice count to widen his margin.

Poliquin came out to speak at his party at Dysart’s restaurant in Bangor around 11:15 p.m. before a thinning crowd and announced that he was closing up shop for the night, calling the race close.

“We could be here until 6 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “It’s going to be razor thin.”

The race was the most expensive one of its kind in Maine history, drawing nearly $21 million in outside spending as of Monday. That was more than all but four House races in the country. Polls going into Election Day showed Golden with a lead that tightened in the last month.

Many voters went for both former Gov. Paul LePage and Golden. The town of Jay, for example, backed LePage in the gubernatorial race but Golden in the congressional contest. Golden seemed to be aware of that, declining to discuss the importance of Mills’ reelection when he appeared with LePage and Poliquin at a lobster rally last month.

Poliquin had name recognition as a former congressman, but he lagged LePage in 2nd District polling after past difficulty connecting with working-class voters in the state’s rural areas. Seemingly aware of those weaknesses, his campaign often sent him on the trail with LePage.

Throughout his reelection campaign, Golden separated himself from his party, often criticizing Biden. Last week, he released a 60-second ad closing his campaign saying that he is “fighting Biden’s failed energy policy.” He even said the president’s American Rescue Plan Act, which Golden was the only congressional Democrat to oppose, likely increased inflation.

Some of Golden’s party-bucking stances, particularly on gun control and police reform, put Poliquin in a bind. While the Republican was supported by the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine in his 2018 race with Golden, both groups stayed out of this race and gave Golden solid marks. Two police groups also endorsed the Democrat.

Poliquin’s response, pushed out through campaign appearances and TV ads, was to link the congressman with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. Those ads often mentioned analyses showing Golden overwhelmingly voting with his party, although he also was the Democrat who bucked his party most by those standards.

At the polls across the 2nd District on Tuesday, reporters found few crossover voters between the gubernatorial and congressional races, with many Republicans saying they were supporting Poliquin because of his affiliation or because Golden voted too much with Pelosi.

Paige McHatten, a 20-year-old student voting in Orono, called herself “a big fan of Golden” and said she had a good conversation with him.

“He values transparency and so do I, and he’s not partisan,” she said.

BDN writer Lia Russell contributed to this report.