Bruce Poliquin speaks to his supporters at Dysart’s on Broadway and announces that they are leaving for the night, with the race between him and Jared Golden too close to call. Golden won the race in a ranked-choice count tallied on Wednesday afternoon. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

When the Democrat is winning GOP strongholds, you know you are in trouble.

It was former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s failure to gain traction in red communities across the conservative, Donald Trump-supporting 2nd District that ultimately doomed his attempt to gain back his seat from incumbent U.S. Rep. Jared Golden. Golden won a comfortable six-percentage-point victory after a ranked-choice count announced on Wednesday. Poliquin conceded the race in a statement Thursday.

Golden’s victory showcases his crossover appeal among GOP-leaning Mainers, many of whom voted for both him and Republican former Gov. Paul LePage in his challenge to incumbent Gov. Janet Mills. That ticket-splitting came even as Poliquin’s camp tried to tie Golden to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden, both relatively unpopular in the district.

But even as Poliquin touted a ProPublica analysis showing Golden voted with Pelosi 83 percent of the time, the congressman’s campaign was able to point to a clear independent streak.

Golden was even willing to stand alone among a House Democratic caucus of more than 200: The only one among them to vote against Build Back Better and the only Democrat in either chamber to vote against final passage of the American Rescue Plan Act — even U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, known for being a constant thorn in his party’s side, voted for that bill.

In a statement, Golden said each of his constituents was unique with views that “run across the full political spectrum.”

“While I cannot speak for them about how they make voting decisions, I have strived to make it clear to them that I respect them, that I’m listening, and that I do what I think is right regardless of party or politics,” Golden said.

Along with Golden’s strengths, the result also showcases the weakness of Poliquin’s campaign, which focused on inflation and immigration in a year when outcry from the Supreme Court revoking a constitutional right to abortion led to a historically weak midterm performance by the GOP.

Not all of it was even about policy: Many voters simply saw Golden as the more authentic choice.

Hanna Tenney, 50, of Bucksport said she was voting for Golden on a “gut feeling” while pumping gas in Fort Kent last month.

“I think he just appears a little less truthful somehow,” she said of Poliquin.

Bucksport was one of nearly 60 communities that Golden won after they went for Trump in 2020. While he won many of those communities with higher margins in 2020, that was against Dale Crafts, a candidate with far less name recognition than Poliquin.

Registered Republicans easily make up the largest group in Lisbon, which voted for LePage by 6 percentage points and Trump by 13 in 2020. And despite not voting for Golden in 2018 or 2020, the town swung for him with a comfortable 4-percentage-point margin this year.

Other Trump-voting communities that went for Golden include Brewer, Ellsworth, Skowhegan, Oakland, Poland, Fairfield, Rumford, Jay, Millinocket, Winterport, Mexico and Machias.

Golden was always expected to run up the margin in Democratic-leaning communities like Lewiston, Bangor and Auburn. But Poliquin severely underperformed in many of the larger, conservative communities in his district.

In many ways, it was the opposite problem of former Gov. Paul LePage, on the same ticket as Poliquin, who saw heavy margins against him in the liberal Portland suburbs.

Poliquin also didn’t run up the numbers in the larger communities he did win, such as Presque Isle (Poliquin won it by just 0.1 percentage points), Sidney (10), Sabattus (9), Glenburn (10) and Houlton (12). In most cases, he was not able to improve upon the margin he had for his losing bid in 2018.