Maine Republican will run to avenge 2018 House defeat he still refuses to recognize
Former Rep. Bruce Poliquin announced Wednesday that he would seek the Republican nomination to take on Rep. Jared Golden, the Democrat who unseated him in a tight 2018 contest for Maine's 2nd Congressional District.
Poliquin, though, is continuing with his Trumpish refusal to accept his defeat in that instant runoff general election, as he once again proclaimed, "Head-to-head, you know, I beat Golden in 2018, and God willing, I will do it again next year." Poliquin joins state Sen. Trey Jackson in the primary, which will also be conducted using instant runoff voting, in their quest to take one of the seven Democratic-held Trump seats in the House.
Poliquin, a one-time Wall Street investment manager who later was appointed state treasurer, flipped this northern Maine constituency during the 2014 GOP wave, and he held it two years later as his district was swinging from 53-44 Obama to 51-41 Trump. The Republican incumbent, though, learned the hard way in 2018 that the area hadn't abandoned its Democratic roots. Golden ran a strong campaign that emphasized his service in the Marines, and this race ended up attracting huge amounts of outside money from both parties.
The contest also took a weird turn in the final days when Poliquin aired an ad set in a local hot dog restaurant that featured diners awkwardly and unconvincingly praising him and dissing the challenger. Some sample dialogue from the actors, many of whom were actually local Republican officials: "One thing's for certain, Bruce Poliquin's good for jobs," and "Stopping Mainers from buying heating oil? Golden's out there."
The spot also featured a doctor sporting a lab coat with the logo of the Central Maine Medical Center, which led the hospital to publicly call for the campaign to pull the commercial. Poliquin's team, naturally, refused to so much as make a minor edit to remove the logo.
Poliquin led Golden 49-47 among first-choice voter preferences on election night, but that wasn't enough under the 2016 voter-approved instant runoff law. Golden ended up prevailing 50.6-49.4 once votes were assigned to subsequent preferences as minor candidates were eliminated, a result that made Poliquin the first incumbent to lose re-election in the 2nd District since 1916.
The defeated congressman, though, responded by filing a lawsuit arguing that the ranked choice law violated the Constitution. Poliquin's suit was frivolous, and both the district court and an appellate court emphatically rejected his legal arguments since nothing in the Constitutional provisions he cited came close to barring the use of instant-runoff voting, which several states have used for overseas and military voters for years to comply with federal law regarding absentee ballots. Poliquin ultimately dropped all his legal challenges a full seven weeks after Election Day but never acknowledged his defeat.
The now-former incumbent soon began expressing interest in a 2020 rematch, and he took every chance he got to pretend he was the rightful victor of the last race. In April of 2019, Poliquin ranted that he'd "won in 2018" and his defeat was illegitimate because "[w]e have this thing called ranked voting" that is "the biggest scam I've ever seen in my whole life."
Not everyone was excited about the idea of a Poliquin return, though. The National Journal reported that even Republican operatives who believed he could beat Golden thought he'd made some serious mistakes in 2018, and they singled out his hot dog restaurant commercial for particular scorn. The former congressman ultimately announced that, while he was "itching to run again," he'd sit the cycle out to care for his ailing parents; Donald Trump soon nominated Poliquin for a volunteer post on the Board of Securities Investor Protection Corporation, but the Senate never held a confirmation vote.
Republicans may have been better if Poliquin, for all his flaws, had been their standard bearer in 2020, however. The eventual GOP nominee, Dale Crafts, struggled to raise money, and major groups on both sides dramatically cut their ad buys in the final weeks of the race to focus elsewhere. Golden ultimately fended off Crafts 53-47 even as his seat backed Trump 52-45.