It’s no longer a safe bet that well-known, well-funded Bruce Poliquin will easily prevail in Tuesday’s Republican congressional primary over a hard-charging challenger with little money but lots of energy in Maine’s sprawling 2nd District.

Liz Caruso and Bruce Poliquin Submitted photos

With “so much anger out there,” said Karl Trautman, who teaches political science at Central Maine Community College in Auburn, “it wouldn’t be surprising” if Liz Caruso of Caratunk manages to pull off an upset.

“No one’s heard of her,” said Brian Redmond, a 2020 state House candidate in Fort Fairfield and a vice chairman of the Aroostook County Republicans. “But no one likes Poliquin so she may just win.”

Caruso, 52, is trying to round up enough support among hardcore GOP activists to defeat Poliquin in a primary that will decide their party’s candidate in a district both parties view as crucial to their national fortunes.

The Republican primary winner will take on two-term U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a 39-year-old Lewiston Democrat, and Tiffany Bond, 45, a Portland independent, in the Nov. 8 general election. Golden won the job four years ago by narrowly defeating Poliquin in the first ranked-choice election held for a federal elected office.

Poliquin, a 68-year-old from Orrington with far more campaign cash than his opponent, is considered a safe bet by party leaders to defeat Caruso, who has been hampered by an inability to reach many Republican voters and a distinct lack of name recognition in much of the district, which is among the most rural in America and the largest east of the Mississippi River.


During a stop last week at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston, Poliquin said that as he’s campaigned around the district this spring, he’s heard from many people who are “really scared” as they wonder how they’ll afford higher prices for everything from food to energy. They wonder what’s going on at the border and whether the nation’s politicians are up to the challenge, he said

He said that everywhere he goes in the district, he meets people who want to see a change.

That may be a good sign for the GOP chances in the general election. Though two public polls this year have shown Golden with a lead, that sentiment also means it’s possible fed-up voters in Maine’s reddest counties might roll the dice on the newcomer Caruso rather than cast a ballot for a familiar name like Poliquin’s.

With so much wrong in Washington, Redmond said, “Bruce doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who can fix it.”

Trautman said Caruso may not have campaign funds, but she’s got a strong social media presence and “a great bio” that makes her attractive to a Republican base that remains loyal to former President Donald Trump.

“It feels like she’s got the pulse” of that growing portion of the GOP, Trautman said.


Redmond said Poliquin, whom he dismissed as “a Harvard guy with his own island,” has “the softest hands I’ve ever shook” and “doesn’t reek of ‘patriot’” like Trump-backing Mainers prefer.

“He doesn’t have heart,” said Redmond, a farmer.

Poliquin’s campaign took public notice of Caruso for the first time after Memorial Day to issue a blistering email assailing Caruso, a move she cited as evidence that he is “freaking out and scared” that she might win on Tuesday.

Former Maine governor and gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage, seen speaking at the Maine Republican Convention in April, declined to comment on the 2nd District race and is instead focusing his efforts on unseating Gov. Janet Mills. Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald file

But state Rep. Mike Perkins, a Republican from Oakland who briefly got into the race last year with the hope of defeating Poliquin for the nomination, said Caruso has no chance.

“I just don’t think she’s got enough backing” or campaign money, Perkins said. Plus, he added, it is “a huge leap” for her to try to catapult from a tiny town in Somerset County all the way to Capitol Hill.

Former Gov. Paul LePage, who is running this year to reclaim his old office, on Saturday declined to endorse either Poliquin or Caruso and said he would not predict the outcome of their primary. He said he’s focusing on his bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.


The GOP congressional primary has offered plenty of red meat from both candidates trying to appeal to a Republican base that has largely bought into the myth that President Joe Biden stole the 2020 election from his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Neither Caruso nor Poliquin has said Biden won legitimately. They both focus a great deal of their attention on issues related to the country’s border with Mexico, opposition to mandatory vaccines, crime and soaring energy prices that they pin on Democratic policies.

The most significant area where the two have expressed disagreement is about the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Caruso opposed American aid to Ukraine and declared she did not see a national security threat to the United States in Russia’s decision to wage war on its neighbor.

Poliquin strongly disagreed, insisting that “Russia is a threat not only to Ukraine but to other democracies” and said he supports U.S. help for Ukrainian forces.

During his two terms in the House, Poliquin was a reliable, mainstream Republican, keen to reduce taxes, cut spending and to promote policies the GOP argued would boost business and help the economy grow.


Trautman said that on the campaign trail this year, Poliquin “seems like he’s stuck” on issues that were big in the past but not quite in tune with what a restive Republican base is interested in this year.

“People want change,” he said. Trautman said if they are looking for someone who will try to pull the country toward Trump’s agenda, “Caruso is that person.”

Caruso sounds more like first-term Republican U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado in her rhetoric. She recently cited them among her role models in a video interview with the conservative Maine media outlet

Greene and Boebert have become famous for dallying with white supremacists, challenging their own party leaders and engaging in attention-grabbing antics such as chanting “build the wall” during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech.

“I like people who stand up and fight for what’s right,” Caruso said. “They’re not intimidated by party leaders or political pressures.”

At the Maine Republican convention this spring, she told the crowd that the country is engaged in “a battle of God and freedom versus evil and tyranny, where a globalist regime and treasonous administration is usurping the government from its citizens, causing civilizational chaos, a crisis at every turn and weaponizing agencies and unelected bureaucrats from the citizens they were to serve.”


Caruso sought without success to face off against Poliquin in a series of debates during the primary campaign. Poliquin brushed the idea aside and has focused on meeting voters in places like Simones’ and the Dysart’s restaurant near Bangor.

Poliquin said his big message to supporters has been straightforward: “Everybody get out there and vote.”

Aside from far greater name recognition than Caruso, Poliquin has raised 60 times as much money for the campaign as she has.

Poliquin has hauled in more than $2.2 million while Caruso, who has led town government in Caratunk for 16 years, has taken in $37,000.

Golden has collected more than $3.1 million so far.

“What a terrible shame that it’s all about the money,” Perkins said.


But both parties, and many outside groups, are already planning to pour millions of additional dollars into the race as part of a bitter, nationwide battle between Democrats and Republicans over which of them will control the U.S. House next year. There won’t be any shortage of cash or commercials in the district no matter who wins the primary.

Caruso, a 1991 graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, has worked as an engineer for Sikorsky Aircraft. She earned a master in business administration degree from Rensselaer as well.

But three decades ago, she moved to Maine from Connecticut to settle in the tiny Somerset County town of Caratunk and worked as a Maine Registered Whitewater Guide. She said she fell in love with the outdoors.

In testimony against the New England Clean Energy Connect project, she said she has “spent countless hours navigating the Kennebec, Dead and Penobscot rivers, boating on the area’s lakes and ponds, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking the area’s mountains and trails, snowmobiling, ATVing and fishing.

At one point she served as the first executive director of The Forks Area Chamber of Commerce, which she helped create.

Caruso has been a full-time home-schooling mother since 2009 and says that her husband and sons “provide our family’s organic grass-fed meat every year by hunting the area’s deer and moose.”


Her husband, Gregory, is a Maine master guide whose livelihood is based entirely on the tourist trade in her region.

Poliquin is a Waterville native who won scholarships that allowed him to attend prep school and Harvard University. He made good money on Wall Street overseeing pension funds in the 1980s.

He moved back to Maine with his young son after his wife and father-in-law drowned in 1992 at a resort in Puerto Rico, a shattering blow.

Poliquin worked as a developer in Maine, but focused a lot of his attention on his son, Sam. He remarried for a time, but that ended in divorce more than a decade ago, shortly before Poliquin ran for governor in 2010.

He lost the election but secured the position of state treasurer in the aftermath. He ran for Congress in 2014 and emerged with his party’s backing for an open seat after a tough primary.

After losing in 2018 to Golden, in a decision he still doesn’t acknowledge as legitimate despite losing a federal court case about it, Poliquin kept a lower profile. He turned down a chance for a rematch two years ago because he wanted to spend time with his ailing parents.

Republican voters will decide Tuesday whether Poliquin or Caruso should be their standard-bearer.

If Poliquin wins, the general election race will look remarkably like the one in 2018, when Poliquin, Golden and Bond were all on the ballot. That year, though, there was one other independent, Will Hoar from Mount Desert Island, who came in fourth.

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