The Republican congressional primary in Maine’s 2nd District has been remarkably low-key, one reason perhaps that absentee ballot requests for the race are down sharply from previous years.

The two contenders in Tuesday’s matchup, both first-term state representatives, are Mike Soboleski of Phillips and Austin Theriault of Fort Kent.

The winner in the GOP primary will get the opportunity to go head-to-head in November’s general election with three-term U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat who has voted with House Republicans more often than any other Democrat.

Austin Theriault Submitted photo

Though neither Soboleski nor Theriault is well known, Theriault, the former NASCAR driver from Fort Kent, has the backing of national party leaders, including the party’s likely presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana.

Soboleski, though, has collected many endorsements from Maine conservatives, including the party’s 2020 congressional candidate in the sprawling district, Dale Crafts of Lisbon.

Theriault has raised 10 times as much campaign cash as Soboleski, giving him the chance to air television commercials and try to roust his supporters to go to the polls. Even so, the race has mostly taken place in front of Republican committees and on conservative radio in Maine, almost unnoticed by most Mainers.

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The two have had some criticism of each other on the campaign trail, but mostly trained their fire on Golden, President Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the retired federal scientist who helped advise Trump and Biden on the proper response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mike Soboleski Submitted photo

Soboleski had harsh words on the stump for Fauci — once honored by former President George W. Bush with the Medal of Freedom, America’s top civilian honor.

“I will not stop until that man rots in prison for the rest of his life,” Soboleski told Waldo County Republicans in a video captured by The Maine Wire.

Soboleski said that during the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020, Fauci “shuttered our businesses, locked us in our homes” and was responsible for “billions of dollars in unnecessary handouts.”

However, the decision to close businesses, tell people to stay home and to provide billions in pandemic aid were made by Trump, governors across America and members of Congress. Fauci only offered advice. He had no decision-making power.

Theriault has been less vociferous, though he recently blamed President Biden for overseeing a justice system that “looks like a banana republic” after a New York jury found Trump guilty of 34 felony counts.

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Both men have sought to make immigration a major issue, but their stances on the issue are similar. Both have also vowed to restrict abortion rights and block gun control efforts

Golden won the GOP-leaning district in 2018 against incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin. He held off Crafts in 2020 and then soundly defeated Poliquin again in 2022.

The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate the district a toss-up in this year’s election. Inside Elections and CNalysis say the race leans Democratic.

This year’s primary is the first to be held under a new semi-open primary law that allows unenrolled voters the option of voting in a party primary without the need to join that party’s rolls. They can, though, only vote in one party’s primary.

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