Three of the 2018 Maine 2nd District congressional candidates at a debate televised by C-Span. Screenshot from video

It feels a bit like “Groundhog Day” in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

With the top three candidates from the 2018 election again seeking the U.S. House seat for western and northern Maine, voters are bracing for something akin to a replay of an ugly political race that nobody with a lick of sense would ever choose to relive.

But, like Bill Murray’s character in the 1993 “Groundhog Day” movie, where a Pittsburgh weatherman had to live the same day repeatedly until he finally got it right, Mainers in the large and rural district are, for better or worse, stuck with a rematch in which each candidate will try to improve on what happened the last time they clashed.

Two of the players were already in place before Tuesday’s primary: U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston and Portland lawyer Tiffany Bond. Bruce Poliquin’s win over Liz Caruso of Caratunk in the Republican primary completed the picture.

A costly and sometimes venomous campaign in 2018 led to the ouster of Poliquin, 68, after two terms in Washington after one of the closest races in the country, the first federal showdown where ranked-choice voting decided the outcome.

Seizing the office in a Republican-leaning district was Golden, a 39-year-old Democrat who is in his second term and aiming for a third stint in office.


And then there’s Bond, 45, an independent who placed third in 2018 and hopes to shock the nation by racking up a victory this time around. There are no independents in the U.S. House today, though the Senate has two, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Maine’s Angus King.

Amy Fried, a University of Maine political science professor, said Wednesday that despite the “nearly identical candidate lineup” in the 2nd District this year, “there are some potentially significant differences” between the race four years ago and the one underway now.

She said that in 2018, Democrats were favored nationally but this time around, Republicans are the ones on the move.

But, Fried said, Golden has a record built over the past four years that “contradicts attack lines on him” by foes who argue he is too close to President Joe Biden or is a radical.

“In fact, the amount of times Golden’s broken with national Democrats could soften his support from the left,” she said.

Fried said that in the years since Poliquin held the seat, the GOP “has become more MAGAized, making it harder for Poliquin to straddle getting support from the base of his party while appealing to moderates.”


In addition, “Golden now has a history of building a broad electoral coalition,” evidenced by his success in 2020 in attracting more votes than Trump in his sprawling district, Fried said.

Finally, she said, in the wake of redistricting this year, when Augusta was added to the 2nd District, the Democrats have a “little more friendly” electorate than they did in the past, a difference that may matter in a close race.

Whatever happens between Poliquin and Golden, Bond is billing herself as “the race-maker” because her presence makes it unlikely either Golden or Poliquin will capture more than 50% of the vote in the first-round of counting after the polls close on Nov. 8 in the general election.

A rematch between candidates happens from time to time. But having a third candidate in the mix who was also on the ballot the first time around is unusual. Among the trio, they claimed more than 98% of all the votes cast in the 2018 race.

If one of the three grabs a majority of the votes right off the bat this time around, then whoever it is will be the district’s member of Congress.

But if nobody hits that threshold, the secretary of state’s office will throw out the third-place finisher and then take his or her ballots and count them once again — only this time, they’ll tally up the second-choices of everyone who voted for the first-round contender who came in last.


An election observer uses a smartphone to record video of Secretary of State workers sorting ballots Nov. 14, 2018, as the ranked-choice vote counting for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District continues in the Elkins Building in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In 2018, that meant that the ballots of voters who picked Bond, who got 6%, or Will Hoar of Southwest Harbor, who got 2%, were redistributed based on the second choice listed on their voters’ ballots.

In practical terms, what that meant was that a razor-thin lead for Poliquin in round one became a little bigger lead for Golden on the final count, which made him the winner and Poliquin a loser who went to court to argue that he’d won.

Poliquin lost a federal case in Bangor, decided by Judge Lance Walker, appointed by President Donald Trump, and then gave up. But he’s never admitted that he lost the race to Golden.

Dropping Bond and Hoar from the voting tally in 2018 clearly led to a win for Golden because about two-thirds of the people who voted for one of the independents preferred the Democrat to Poliquin, who currently lives in Orrington.

Golden’s campaign team, though, made a case that if there had been no independents at all, they’d have simply won in the first round.

For Bond, Poliquin’s court case makes this year’s race something quite different than the one in 2018.


He “gave us the gift of being a sore loser who likes to sue, and voters can now be confident that RCV will hold,” she said Wednesday.

And that matters because, as Bond put it, “I had many folks in 2018 after the lawsuit that told me that they wished they had voted for me, but they didn’t know if their number 2 votes would get thrown out.”

This time around, they can be confident that the ranked-choice system won’t be tossed out.

Bond, who is building a home in Sandy River Plantation, said she’ll do better in any case because “no one knew who I was” in 2018 when she began running with only “a handful of followers on social” and almost no presence on the internet.

Now, she said, she has the advantage of working for several years to start “a movement of regular folks who want a responsive government that understands our needs.”

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