Dale Crafts has faced longer odds.

While still a young man, the 61-year-old Lisbon businessman lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident that put him in a wheelchair for life.

Republican Dale Crafts of Lisbon announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives at a rally in Lisbon last fall. Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

With prayer and a determination he adopted from his grandmother, Crafts said he became “an overcomer” who kept rolling forward.

The former Republican state legislator hopes Tuesday to unseat first-term U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat who won his 2nd District seat in 2018 in one of the closest, and costliest, congressional races in the country.

Golden, a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has raised far more campaign cash and every serious poll taken in the district during the race has shown him well ahead of Crafts, despite the district’s strong support for President Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

State House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Freeport Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate, said Golden has been working hard for his district and serving his constituents well. She said she’s confident he’ll be reelected.

But the GOP isn’t throwing in the towel.

“I feel pretty good about Maine Two,” Donald Trump, Jr, the president’s son, said at the start of an Orrington rally last week. “Enough of the nonsense. Let’s send Dale Crafts to Congress to fight for us.”

“Republicans, we’re going to win it all back,” Crafts said at the rally. “We’re going to have a wave like they’ve never seen.”

Golden, 38, and Crafts have waged a low-key and generally civil race punctuated with a few minor flareups as the Republican sought to paint the incumbent as a “socialist” ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and other Democratic leaders.

Crafts, who is socially and fiscally conservative, said the country is at a crossroads.

“This is a time when we hang on to our freedoms and our liberties and our Constitution or we go down where the progressive left, where the Democrats, are trying to take us,” Crafts said.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden checking out Orphan Annie’s antique shop in Auburn during a walking tour of local businesses last year. Sun Journal file photo

Golden, who voted against Pelosi for speaker, insisted in response that he’s independent-minded and focused on the issues that impact his sprawling, rural district, from health care to fishing regulations.

He said he’s a believer in solving problems, not pushing ideology. Working across the aisle ought to be a priority, Golden said, and those on Capitol Hill need to do more to heal the divide that has Americans clashing instead of seeking common ground.

In the nation’s first ranked-choice voting election for a federal office, Golden ousted incumbent GOP lawmaker Bruce Poliquin, who opted not to seek a rematch this year.

Instead, three Republicans vied in a pandemic-delayed primary — former state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn; former television news reporter Adrienne Bennett, who served for many years as Gov. Paul LePage’s press secretary; and Crafts.

With the backing of LePage, who convinced him to get into the race to begin with, Crafts won handily.

Republican congressional candidate Dale Crafts of Lisbon talks with a voter at Longley School in Lewiston on July 14. Sun Journal file photo

The campaign since July has been notably different than the past few races in the hardscrabble district, with less venom, less television advertising from outside interests and less of the retail politicking of the past, something the pandemic has influenced.

The deadly coronavirus has shaped the race in practical terms, forcing candidates to use Zoom more than traditional glad-handing, but the issues it raised also served to show the difference between the two men.

Crafts was an early, ardent critic of the way Gov. Janet Mills shut down the state in March to stem the spread of COVID-19, setting the stage for Maine to post one of the best records of any state in holding off the disease.

Crafts said Mills deserved credit for backing off the initial far-reaching shutdown, but questioned whether it went on too long and covered rural areas of the state that never needed to close. In May, he accused her of making things “worse than the virus.”

The GOP contender said President Donald Trump has done a good job dealing with the crisis, including his push for developing a vaccine and getting more ventilators manufactured.

Golden said Trump’s decision to downplay the threat posed by the virus was “a leadership mistake” because people needed to hear the best possible information as soon as possible.

He said Trump did some things right, but “really dropped the ball” in his failure to push for more testing and more personal protective equipment for frontline workers. Testing ought to be a priority, Golden said.

Another area where the two have sharply disagreed is on the need to protect the Affordable Care Act, the program known as Obamacare passed a decade ago that now provides health insurance for 20 million Americans.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden speaking in Maine last year. AP file photo

Crafts said he supports Trump’s effort to repeal the measure. He said a free-market solution is better, although the ACA generally helps people purchase private insurance plans while guaranteeing that insurers cannot discriminate based on pre-existing conditions.

Golden said he wants to see the ACA improved rather than junked or replaced with a Medicare-For-All system that, in some versions, would push out private insurance entirely.

“If we go down the road toward socialized medicine, we’re going to regret it,” Crafts said.

Golden and Crafts also disagree on whether to impose higher taxes on wealthy Americans.

Golden expressed a willingness to see taxes hiked on people who earn more than $400,000 annually while Crafts is opposed to new taxes and not especially happy with existing ones.

The answer to growing budget deficits and a looming Social Security shortfall is “growing the economy,” Crafts said, a step that would add revenue and ultimately fix the problem.

Golden said one answer to preserving Social Security is to change the way its taxes are collected.

As it is, the government stops taking Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes from salaries up to $137,700 annually. It doesn’t tax any additional income. Golden said he would like to leave the tax method alone except that he would also apply the FICA tax on any income over $400,000, a move that would help resolve the agency’s funding issues.

While Crafts said he hopes to win Tuesday, if he comes up short, he will “sleep like a baby” and wake up Wednesday ready for the next chapter in a life he considers extraordinary.


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