Well, it looks as if Jared Golden may well have a primary opponent.

OK, well, probably not.

Sure, a Democrat from Bangor named Michael Sutton has filled out the Federal Election Commission paperwork to run against Golden, but that doesn’t really mean very much at all. It’s a five-page form that can be filed online. It doesn’t mean that you’ve raised any money, or have the signatures to get on the ballot, or that you have any political acumen or expertise. It means you know how to fill out a form. It’s slightly more formal than Michael Scott on “The Office” running out and shouting to the sky “I declare bankruptcy!” but not much. In Sutton’s case, he’s run for local office a couple of times and lost; he’s unlikely to cause Golden much concern.

This isn’t the first time that Jared Golden has drawn the ire of his party’s liberal base, though. He’s shown a willingness to vote against some of their top initiatives as Congress has begun, but except for the stimulus package, they were mainly show votes on bills that had little to no chance of becoming law – at least, not as is. Even with a narrow Senate majority, Democrats will have little chance of passing legislation on controversial topics that will resemble what the progressive base demands. Even if these were realistic bills, in none of those cases – including the stimulus – was Jared Golden’s vote enough to change the outcome.

Now, when a lawmaker votes a certain way – especially if their vote doesn’t change the result – there are essentially two possible interpretations of their decision: They’re either voting their principles or they’re making some kind of political calculation. If you’re a supporter of theirs, you tend to presume the former; if you opposed them, you naturally assume the latter. The truth is that for all except the most principled or the most calculating politicians, it’s usually a mix of the two motivations. The question is how this applies to Golden on these votes where he disagreed with his party.

To be clear, Golden doesn’t regularly vote against his party as a matter of routine; he’s just broken with leadership on a few high-profile issues of late. This began right after he was first elected in 2018, when he refused to vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House, an act he repeated at the beginning of this year. In both cases, Pelosi knew she had the votes, so it didn’t cost her anything to lose Golden’s.

Having liberals angry at him over a few stray votes is nothing new for Golden, either. When he was one of just a few House Democrats to split their vote in Trump’s first impeachment trial, they were furious at him then. Still, despite all their anger, Golden didn’t even have an opponent on the ballot, and he only faced a Republican in the general election, so there was nowhere else for disappointed liberals to go. In the end, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, while liberals on Twitter may have been upset, it was a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

It’s unlikely that Golden will immediately face any serious political repercussions for bucking party orthodoxy on a few issues here and there. Golden does, after all, represent a district that Donald Trump won twice; Democrats should probably be listening to him, not primarying him. Golden won re-election on bipartisan appeal, so showing an independent streak only broadens that appeal. Even when newcomers do manage to unseat congressional incumbents, it’s not usually for a few stray votes right after they get elected, but because they’ve lost touch with their district over a long period. Far from losing touch with his district, Golden’s votes show how well he’s in tune with it.

The real question for Jared Golden will not be getting primaried as an incumbent, but how he fares if he ever runs for higher office. Historically, he’s been the sort of candidate who wins elections statewide as a Democrat, but liberals are getting increasingly vocal.

The next time one of the U.S. Senate seats opens up, there will be no independent liberal for Maine Democrats to prop up, and progressives may be unwilling to yet again play second fiddle to a centrist from central Maine. That contest could well prove interesting, but in the 2nd Congressional District, Golden’s biggest threat will always be from his right in the general, not from his left in the primary.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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