U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s 10-percentage-point win in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District on Tuesday night didn’t just signal a decisive re-election for the first-term Republican congressman.

The results also coincided with a 2nd District win for President-elect Donald Trump and widespread opposition to a statewide referendum on background checks for gun sales, pointing to a strengthening conservative movement in a district once regarded as Democratic-leaning.

Poliquin, of Oakland, defeated challenger Emily Cain, a Democrat from Orono, with 55 percent of the vote compared to her 45 percent in unofficial results. He did so by winning most of the 2nd District’s small, rural towns as well as places that are or once were bases of manufacturing, including Madison, Millinocket and Skowhegan. Cain, meanwhile, won the district’s urban centers — Bangor, Lewiston and Auburn — and coastal communities such as Belfast and Bar Harbor, but it wasn’t enough against a rural vote that largely went Republican.

The race between the two had been anticipated to be a close one, as both national parties looked to secure a legislative majority in Congress. It was also affected by a high-stakes presidential race that resulted in the state splitting its electoral votes for the first time in history; and interest in Maine’s ballot initiatives, including Question 3, a citizen-driven referendum on universal background checks that drew widespread opposition in the 2nd District, especially among communities where Poliquin fared well.

In an early morning victory speech Wednesday at Dysart’s Restaurant and Bakery in Bangor, Poliquin said he would continue to work nonstop for the people of the 2nd District, whom he called “the hardest working, most honest people in America.”

He also touched on campaign spending — which reached record numbers in the 2nd District this election cycle — Medicare and Social Security, health care for veterans and jobs in a short speech frequently interrupted by applause.


“The reason I’m doing this is because of Sam and his generation and the generation after that,” Poliquin said after inviting his son, Sam, to join him in front of the crowd. “We need to continue — all of us, at the federal, state and local level — to make sure that government has compassion and that government helps to grow more jobs and create more opportunities.”

Spokesmen for Poliquin did not respond Wednesday to requests for an interview with the congressman after his re-election.

Cain conceded the race in a news release issued around 2 a.m. Wednesday and congratulated Poliquin on the win. In an interview later Wednesday, Cain said she was proud of her campaign and how it was run.

“I have no regrets,” she said. “I have a very full heart when it comes to all the people I met, all the people who helped and all the people who have been a part of my team every step of the way.”

Cain also reflected on a night that saw Republicans win decisive victories in House races across the country, including in other states such as Missouri, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Democrats originally had looked for gains. Political observers also have pointed to Trump’s strength in appealing to working-class white voters in the so-called “rust belt,” where concerns about the decline of income and jobs — especially in manufacturing — fueled a wave of support for the Republican president-elect and other party candidates down-ballot.

Those concerns also may have resonated in Maine’s 2nd District, where a paper mill in Madison closed earlier this year and a mill in Jay recently announced it would lay off 190 workers. Poliquin has highlighted his efforts to preserve manufacturing jobs, often touring the New Balance shoe factory in Norridgewock and touting legislation aimed at preserving manufacturing jobs there.


“Ultimately at the national level and here in Maine, I think the presidential race impacted this election much more than we anticipated,” Cain said.

Poliquin, who repeatedly declined to comment on Trump throughout his campaign, did not comment on the presidential race Tuesday night except to say that he would continue to “work with everyone.”

Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in Maine’s 1st Congressional District in 1978, backed up Cain’s assertion about the role the presidential race played in down-ballot races across the country. That includes Maine, where several campaign stops by Trump and his family in the state helped further support for Republican candidates.

The Trump campaign “paid attention” to Maine, he said. “They said, ‘You’re important to us,’ and I think that makes a difference.”

In addition to the advantages of incumbency, Poliquin also stood to benefit from high voter turnout for Question 3, the failed gun background check measure, Maisel said. Cain said she supported Question 3, while Poliquin wouldn’t comment on the referendum but pointed to his endorsement from the Nation Rifle Association, which opposes gun control measures.

“We’re in a very interesting situation in Maine where we’ve seen citizen-initiated referendums driving voter turnout,” Maisel said, also mentioning 2014’s bear baiting referendum as another example of proposals that seemed to help draw out conservative-leaning voters to the polls.


Voter turnout in the 2nd District race eclipsed that of 2014, with more than 345,000 people voting this year, compared to 283,448 two years ago, when Poliquin first won the seat in a contest with Cain. Poliquin also saw greater support in many of Maine’s former or current manufacturing areas, such as Millinocket, which Cain won in 2014 but this year went to Poliquin.

He nearly doubled his margin of victory in Madison, where residents were hit hard this year by the closure of Madison Paper Industries, winning with 1,323 votes to Cain’s 895. Trump won with 1,262 votes in Madison compared to 813 for Clinton.

In Bangor, where Cain won with 8,331 votes to Poliquin’s 7,111; Trump lost to Clinton with 5,993 votes to her 8,146.

For her part, Cain, a four-time state representative and former state senator, said she isn’t sure what she will be do next or whether she will run for political office again.

“I’m focused right now on making sure we wrap up this campaign in the right way and that I take time for myself, my family and my friends to reflect on what we’ve been through and then make a plan to move forward,” she said.

She also called on Poliquin to address the issue of campaign finance reform, something he also touched on in his remarks early Wednesday morning, saying he was “appalled” by the more than $9 million in outside spending in Maine’s 2nd District, helping make it the costliest congressional race in state history.


Maisel, the Colby professor, said that with a Republican majority in the House and the Senate, and now a Republican president, Poliquin is in a good position to push through legislation.

“There’s a lot of people now that agree with him in the House, so there’s a better chance of getting things passed because it’s also set up so the presidency agrees with them,” he said.

In his remarks early Wednesday morning, Poliquin said jobs will be his No. 1 priority as he starts a new term.

“For the next two years I will be working nonstop like I have the first two years, to make sure our Medicare and Social Security guarantees are protected and that our veterans get the health care services they need,” Poliquin said. “Most importantly, it’s all about jobs. We need to create more work and strengthen our economy so our young people can stay here.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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