State representatives Laurel Libby and Liz Caruso. Credit: Robert F. Buktay / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Two runners-up from the 2022 primary season and at least one sitting lawmaker are among the Republicans eyeing a potential run against U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District.

Golden represents a swing district won twice by former President Donald Trump, but the centrist Democrat has proven durable there. He ousted former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2018, beat him again in 2022 and won slightly more votes than Trump did in the region in the congressman’s 2020 victory over former state Rep. Dale Crafts.

Republicans are rebuilding their bench after Poliquin and former Gov. Paul LePage failed to recapture their seats in the 2022 election. Newer faces are among those looking at a race against Golden, with party insiders signaling a desire to create a major contrast with the 40-year-old Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Caratunk selectperson Liz Caruso, who was Poliquin’s longshot primary opponent in 2022, state Rep. Laurel Libby of Auburn and former Maine Senate candidate Robert Cross of Dedham said they were considering campaigns for the seat.

Reached Monday, Caruso said she has been asked by a lot of people to consider a run but is not close to a decision. Cross said he would make a decision by June. Libby said she was recruited by some to run last time but emphasized her work in the Legislature, particularly in organizing against recent abortion law changes proposed by Gov. Janet Mills and Democrats.

“So, I haven’t ruled anything out, but I also am so focused there that I just am not going to commit to anything at this time,” Libby said Friday.

Those may not be the only candidates. Maine Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart of Presque Isle, who ran briefly in 2021 before bowing out to back Poliquin, did not respond to messages seeking for comment but is being watched by Republicans here and in Washington.

Caruso, a Maine guide who got her start in politics in the public campaign against the Central Maine Power Co. corridor, aligned herself with Republican hardliners including U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in a shoestring campaign against Poliquin that won her 40 percent of votes but praise from the archconservative base for a fiery speech at the state convention.

Libby is the nominal leader of a strident faction of House Republicans opposed to key items in Augusta this year, including a heating aid bill passed in January. She raised nearly twice as much money for her 2022 campaign than any other House member while leading a political group that raised big sums to aid candidates but clashed with party leadership.

Cross is a mortgage broker who worked for decades for the U.S. Department of Agriculture administering housing programs and lost a 2022 primary to state Sen. Peter Lyford, R-Eddington, in a conservative district east of Bangor. His grandfather was Woodrow Cross, the founder of Cross Insurance who died at age 103 in 2020.

Both Democrats and Republicans have added the 2nd District to their list of priority seats entering the 2024 cycle. A presidential election with Trump potentially on the ballot again with President Joe Biden has Republicans optimistic that the grassroots could show up for their eventual candidate in a way that they did not for Poliquin.

Any candidate will have a stiff challenge in Golden. His party-bucking votes won him the support of a police group that also backed LePage in 2022 and kept the conservative National Rifle Association from endorsing in the race with Poliquin. 

While FiveThirtyEight called Golden the House Democrat who broke most with Biden in the last Congress, Republicans have highlighted votes with Biden on major initiatives, including the Inflation Reduction Act. For now, Golden is focused on his job and spending time with his family, Bobby Reynolds, his political strategist, said.

“He isn’t the slightest bit concerned with who is going to run against him in 2024,” Reynolds said.

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...