With so much news happening nationally and internationally along with Maine’s hotly contested gubernatorial race, Maine’s congressional races have largely flown under the radar.

That’s right, I said “races”: It’s easy to forget that Maine actually has two congressional districts, and, therefore, two congressional races every two years. It seems as if almost the entirety of the press’s attention is focused on Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which may well be a key district in the overall control for Congress. While that’s certainly understandable, as the 2nd District has been much more politically competitive in recent years, it gives short shrift to the much more populous 1st Congressional District, centered on Portland.

It’s been an assumption recently among political intelligentsia and commentators in Maine that it’s safe to ignore the 1st District, as they write it off as so uncompetitive that Republicans could never possibly hope to win it. While that’s certainly been true recently, it’s largely been a self-fulfilling as well; Maine Republicans have trotted out a series of underwhelming candidates.

While that may seem to be the norm, the reverse was often true in years past: Republicans frequently had higher-quality candidates in the 1st District than the 2nd, even though the latter was more competitive. When high-quality candidates run for the 1st District, they can at least make a good showing – even if they don’t ultimately pull off the upset. The right candidate in the right year could certainly make a run at it. Republicans do hold other congressional districts in other states that are similarly Democratic-leaning.

That’s why it’s been heartening to see Ed Thelander, Chellie Pingree’s challenger this year, doing everything right so far in his campaign – against the odds. The latest example of this was when he recently held a news conference in Portland highlighting rising crime in the city and across the district, an issue that has drawn concerns from local officials. It got him his first major media exposure of the race, and it highlighted an issue that could be trouble for Democrats this fall, even in seemingly secure seats like Pingree’s.

It’s a tough issue for them not only because, until recently, many liberals have been pushing policies to defund the police rather than defending them, but also because it has flown under the radar for both parties, especially here in Maine. Even when it’s been a big issue in larger cities over the past several years, Maine has remained largely untouched until recently, catching politicians flatfooted. Thelander’s move should show other Maine Republicans that it’s better to be bold on the issues than to stay silent.


In Maine’s other district, we see the flip side of that, where the biggest debate of late has been … about debates.

That’s right, incumbent Democrat Jared Golden and his challenger, Republican former two-term Rep. Bruce Poliquin, have been fighting about when and where to have debates. They’ve each agreed to three debates. The problem is that, so far, they’re mostly different debates. This doesn’t impress voters of any political stripe. Voters just want to hear from candidates so they’re able to make well-informed decisions.

If Golden insists on independent Tiffany Bond being included in the debate, then let her on the stage – it probably won’t make much of a difference whether she’s there or not. Normally, it might be reasonable to filter out lower-tier candidates based on polling, but there hasn’t been much publicly available polling so far in Maine, and we’re rapidly approaching October.

With three candidates on the ballot, it’s not as if having one more person on the stage will turn it into a free-for-all. Haggling over debate scheduling is just the sort of inside baseball that voters hate to hear from politicians. It’s time for Poliquin and Golden to both knock it off. If Golden insists on all three candidates being there, the organizers should allow it; then he’ll presumably be willing to show up.

Any Republican might face an uphill battle in the 1st District, but at least Thelander is focusing on the issues. Hopefully we’ll get to see him debate Pingree this fall. In the 2nd District, the three candidates can come to an agreement about debates. Voters deserve to hear all the candidates debate each other on the real issues that affect their lives, rather than being subjected to squabbling about schedules.

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

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