Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s 10 percentage point win in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District Tuesday night didn’t just signal a decisive re-election for the first-term Republican congressman.

The results also coincided with a 2nd District win for President-elect Donald Trump and widespread opposition to a statewide referendum on background checks for gun sales, pointing to a strengthening conservative movement in a district once regarded as Democratic-leaning.

Poliquin, of Oakland, defeated challenger Emily Cain, a Democrat from Orono, with 55 percent of the vote compared to her 45 percent, with 97 percent of the precincts reporting. He did so by winning most of the 2nd District’s small, rural towns, as well as places that are, or once were, bases of manufacturing, including Madison, Millinocket and Skowhegan. Cain, meanwhile, won the district’s urban centers – Bangor, Lewiston and Auburn – and coastal communities such as Belfast and Bar Harbor, but it wasn’t enough against a rural vote that largely went Republican.

The race between the two had been anticipated to be a close one, as both national parties looked to secure a legislative majority in Congress. It was also affected by a high-stakes presidential race that resulted in the state splitting its electoral votes for the first time in history and interest in Maine’s ballot initiatives, including Question 3, a referendum on universal background checks that drew widespread opposition, especially among communities where Poliquin fared well.

In a victory speech Wednesday at Dysart’s Restaurant and Bakery in Bangor, Poliquin said he would continue to work nonstop for the people of the 2nd District, whom he called “the hardest working, most honest people in America.”

He also touched on campaign spending – which reached a record in the 2nd District this cycle – Medicare and Social Security, health care for veterans and jobs in a speech frequently interrupted by applause.

“The reason I’m doing this is because of Sam and his generation and the generation after that,” Poliquin said after inviting his son, Sam, to join him in front of the crowd. “We need to continue – all of us, at the federal, state and local level – to make sure that government has compassion and that government helps to grow more jobs and … more opportunities.”

Poliquin’s representatives did not respond Wednesday to requests for an interview.

Cain conceded the race in a news release issued around 2 a.m. Wednesday and congratulated Poliquin on the win. In an interview during the day, Cain said she was proud of her campaign and how it was run.

“I have no regrets,” she said. “I have a very full heart when it comes to all the people I met, all the people who helped and all the people who have been a part of my team ….”

Cain also reflected on a night that saw Republicans win decisive victories in House races across the country, including in states such as Missouri, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Democrats originally had looked for gains. Political observers also have pointed to Trump’s strength in appealing to working-class white voters in the so-called “rust belt,” where concerns about the decline of income and jobs fueled a wave of support for Republicans.

Those concerns also may have resonated in Maine’s 2nd District, where a paper mill in Madison closed this year and a mill in Jay recently announced it would lay off 190 workers. Poliquin has highlighted his efforts to preserve manufacturing jobs, often touring the New Balance shoe factory in Norridgewock and touting legislation aimed at preserving manufacturing jobs there.

“Ultimately, at the national level and here in Maine, I think the presidential race impacted this election much more than we anticipated,” Cain said.

Poliquin, who declined to comment on Trump during his campaign, did not comment on the presidential race Tuesday night except to say that he would continue to “work with everyone.”

Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in Maine’s 1st Congressional District in 1978, backed up Cain’s assertion about the role the presidential race played in down-ballot races. That includes Maine, where several campaign stops by Trump and his family helped rally support for Republican candidates.

The Trump campaign “paid attention” to Maine, he said. “They said, ‘You’re important to us,’ and I think that makes a difference.”

In addition to the advantages of incumbency, Poliquin also stood to benefit from high voter turnout for Question 3, the failed gun background check measure, Maisel said. Cain supported Question 3, while Poliquin wouldn’t comment on the referendum, but pointed to his endorsement from the Nation Rifle Association, which opposes gun control measures.

“We’re in a very interesting situation in Maine where we’ve seen citizen-initiated referendums driving voter turnout,” Maisel said, also mentioning 2014’s bear baiting referendum as another example of proposals that seemed to help draw conservative-leaning voters.

Voter turnout in the 2nd District race eclipsed that of 2014, with more than 345,000 people voting this year, compared to 283,448 two years ago, when Poliquin first won the seat. Poliquin also saw greater support in many former or current manufacturing areas, such as Millinocket, which Cain won in 2014 but this year did not.

He nearly doubled his margin of victory in Madison, where residents were hit hard this year by the closure of Madison Paper Industries.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

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