Like quickly passing summer showers, little bursts of political news barely dampen the ground around us. It’s summer in Maine, the election is 15 months away and frankly, my dear, we don’t give a hoot.
The long-teased announcement that former Governor Paul LePage is seeking to return to the Blaine House raised brief interest in how he will fare against current Governor Janet Mills, yet that news was soon eclipsed by another debate: Chocolate salt caramel or coffee chocolate chip? Congressman Jared Golden has one Republican opponent so far, but we’re just not into it. Black raspberry or fudge swirl?
The 2nd Congressional District race, when it does break the surface, could be fun to watch. It will pit two-term Golden, a Democrat whose record meanders back and forth across party lines, against enfant-not-so-terrible Trey Stewart (R-Presque Isle), currently serving in the state Senate.
Stewart is favored to win his primary against Rep. Mike Perkins (R-Oakland). If former congressman Bruce Poliquin or former legislator and congressional candidate Dale Crafts enter the primary, the odds are still on Stewart’s side. He’s a fresh face with no lack of ambition.
In addition to his takedowns of two incumbents, Stewart became Maine House assistant Republican leader in his second House term. He also earned an MBA while serving his first House term and is now in the University of Maine law school. He has served on the boards of a wide variety of organizations at home in the County.
Any mention of Stewart inevitably refers to his age, which is 27. Golden, whose political career in Augusta began when he was 32, may now, at 39 (happy almost-birthday, Jared), no longer qualify for young buck status.
Yet if it is not the battle of the (young) bucks, it will surely be the battle of the big bucks when it comes to spending. Golden has proven his fundraising chops; Republicans will answer in kind if they think they have a shot at flipping the seat back to their party.
Unseating a two-term candidate is much more difficult than ousting a freshman, but Stewart has picked off two Democratic incumbents in his brief career, once for the Maine House and once for the Maine Senate. For the Senate seat that he now holds, Stewart defeated former Maine Attorney General Michael Carpenter, a well-known and battle-tested Democrat in a Republican district, by a comfortable margin.
Yet Golden has done the same, toppling Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin in 2018, the first time since 1916 an incumbent lost a 2nd CD seat, though it took ranked choice voting to do it. Golden won his second congressional election outright against Dale Crafts and two write-in candidates.
What will make this race more interesting than the usual affairs with their trite, canned ads and big spending is that these candidates have actual policy ideas, and both have shown a willingness to stray across party lines when it comes to political positions. Their debates will be must-see TV.
Golden famously voted against Nancy Pelosi for House speaker in both of his terms in Congress, joining just four other House Democrats to do so in the current term. For some Democrats, she is a symbol of the entrenched old guard in Washington. Younger members are ready for a change, but very few of them were willing to risk voting against her. Golden took the risk.
He does not appear to have suffered from it, and indeed there may have been a tacit understanding that his defection could be key to his re-election. He has also walked his walk when it comes to other votes. He is not afraid to stand up for what he believes no matter where it falls on the party spectrum.
Stewart has voted contrary to his party’s preference on several issues, and his support for former President Donald Trump is less than full-throated. He supported the call for an independent investigation of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
These candidates both have records that allow them to claim some degree of independence from party dictates. Both can point to an alignment with the prevailing values of the 2nd CD, and both can cite instances where they voted their consciences. Stewart has deep County roots; Golden has the strength of incumbency.
This could be the race that reminds us of what politics is supposed to be about — honest differences, respectfully debated, with the opinions and needs of the district taking precedence over the political goals of the parties. A pipe dream? Can these two candidates resist the pressure from their parties to package them in the standard molds we know all too well? We’ll find out in another six months. In the meantime, vanilla or strawberry?