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One of the most closely watched races in the country is still being watched. That's because Maine's 2nd Congressional District is still up for grabs between incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin, who is seeking a third term, and Democrat Jared Golden of Lewiston.
The contest, which also featured two independents, will be decided by Maine's new, first-in-the-nation instant runoff system for federal races known as ranked-choice voting. Neither candidate collected a majority of first-place votes, required under the system. Now additional voting rounds are required, in which last-place finishers in the four-way race are eliminated and the votes are reallocated.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said those calculations, aided by computers, will take place next week. He's not committing to a specific timeline.
More TV Ads Than Anywhere Else
It's been a costly and combative campaign with a barrage of negative television ads bashing the two leading candidates for weeks.
At 65, Poliquin is a former state treasurer with a background in finance. Not quite 40, Golden is a state legislator and Marine Corps veteran.
But you might not recognize either man from the messages heard on TV. There were more ads shown in the 2nd district than anywhere else in the country, in part because Poliquin was identified as being vulnerable to defeat as Democrats sought control of the U.S. House. Together political action committees and the campaigns spent nearly $20 million on the race, which has now come down to the wire.
Late on Tuesday evening, Poliquin addressed his supporters at Dysarts in Bangor.
"We're gonna monitor this very closely,” Poliquin said. “We're not gonna get a final result tonight. But you folks are terrific. We could not be where we're at without all these terrific volunteers. So I thank you all from the bottom of my heart but I came out tonight to say — go to bed."
Poliquin has previously left open the possibility that he might file a legal challenge if ranked-choice voting comes into play in the race. Late Tuesday night he again declined to address that question when asked about it by reporters.
The ranked-choice system makes predicting a winner difficult.
"I voted for Poliquin,” said Jeremy Perry of Milo. “That's it. I left the rest of it blank."
Perry didn't opt for a second or third candidate on his ballot. He said he’s not a big fan of the ranked-choice system and that hopes there aren't any glitches.
“I just hope it's done correctly,” he said. “But if he loses, you know, the people of Maine have spoken.”
Golden Feels Confident
At the Golden campaign in Lewiston, a crowd of more than 150 erupted into cheers as they watched national returns on a big screen TV showing Democrats on the brink of recapturing a majority in the U.S. House.
In Maine, beating an incumbent is an uphill battle, one that hasn't happened in Maine's 2nd Congressional District in more than 100 years. But speaking to his supporters, Golden sounded like he believes he's poised to make history. Working people, he says, are hungry for someone who's going to fight for them. And he says he'll start by protecting and expanding access to health care.
"I'm not going to vote to take coverage away from you or to let insurance companies discriminate against sick Mainers, charge the elderly more for their care," he said. "I'm gonna continue this national movement to raise wages for working, middle class people and oppose anymore tax giveaways for the wealthiest and most powerful in this country."
Golden said he was proud that his campaign didn't take any corporate money even though people told him that he could never win without it. He hasn't won yet, but he says he likes the signs he's seeing.
Jennifer Mitchell contributed to this report, with additional reporting from the Associated Press. This story was first published by Maine Public Radio.
This segment aired on November 7, 2018.
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