Expect a fascinating congressional election in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District with the entry of Republican Bruce Poliquin into the mix, several professors who watch Maine politics said Wednesday.

The political observers also said that two-term U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, may be vulnerable, but Republicans are likely to find him a tough guy to oust.

Golden, who has challenged his party leadership on several key issues, “has inoculated himself quite well” against charges that he is aligned with progressive Democrats whose policies may not play well in his rural district, said Karl Trautman, who teaches political science at Central Maine Community College in Auburn.

Jamie McKown, the Wiggins Chair of Government and Policy at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, said he can see why Republicans think Golden is vulnerable.

Midterms, he said, “can be rough for the incumbent party, and that is especially the case for midterms that take place in a president’s first term in office. Democrats lost 63 House seats in 2010, for example, and the GOP lost 40 in 2018.

“There are differing thoughts about what is behind this trend,” McKown said, but “one reasonable explanation is that an incumbent House member, especially those in swing districts, can be placed in a difficult position of having to defend the agenda of the sitting president from their own party.”

“In Golden’s case, 2022 will mark the first election in which his party controls the White House, and so you could argue that he is now in seemingly new territory messaging-wise,” he said.

But trends are one thing and the situation on the ground in a particular district can be something entirely different.

The important question in Golden’s reelection bid will be the extent to which the Democrat “has successfully insulated himself from the charges made by Republicans that he is some kind of leftist radical that can be easily tied to all aspects of the Biden agenda,” McKown said.

After two successful races, he said, “There is empirical evidence that Golden has been able to campaign on his own record, as someone who, irrespective of the larger national trends, represents the interests of this particular district. However, no matter how much he creates that distance, Biden’s overall approval in the district will still have some impact on Golden’s reelection (bid). The question is how much.”

James Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, said he’s not surprised Poliquin is willing to take on the challenge.

Given the former GOP lawmaker’s continuing criticism of ranked-choice voting, Melcher said, “I had in the back of my mind that he would relish a rematch.”

Poliquin “has a lot of advantages going in,” including name recognition higher than anyone else could muster for the Republicans, Trump’s victory in the district in 2020 and the reality that Poliquin has won twice before,” Melcher said.

Plus, he said, a lot of GOP loyalists “are still unhappy about how Poliquin’s 2018 race came out” in a drawn-out vote count some considered illegitimate. That should spur them to vote in larger numbers.

The flip side, though, is that “Democrats tend to feel very negatively” about Poliquin, so that while he may motivate the Republican base to turn out, he’ll also likely unify Democrats who may be unhappy that Golden hasn’t been more liberal, Melcher said.

It’s worth noting, two of the professors said, that Poliquin may not win his own party’s primary.

While “it’s safe to say that Poliquin immediately becomes the front-runner,” McKown said, and it’s unlikely either of the other GOP contenders “will muster much of a challenge,” it remains the case that “the past few years have shown that when it comes to Republican primaries, especially in the age of Trump, there are no safe chalk bets to be made.”

Trautman said a 2022 general election ballot that includes Poliquin, 67, and gubernatorial hopeful Paul LePage, 72, “could be considered old news for a lot of people.”

He said it’s possible there could be an internal division among Republicans who look at their choice as “future or past,” particularly with 27-year-old state Sen. Trey Stewart of Presque Isle already in the race.

“I will be curious to see if Poliquin’s announcement has any impact on consolidating the primary field,” McKown said.

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