By D. Allan Kerr
Nancy Pelosi might want to hold off before dusting the Speaker of the House’s chair to reclaim her seat after the November elections.
Democrats can’t simply count on disenfranchised Republicans not turning out at the polls this year. In order for their party to gain back a majority in Washington, they have to actually win over the hearts and minds of voters. And the kind of candidate who can help them do this may be right next door in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.
Jared Golden, the assistant majority leader of Maine’s House of Representatives, is currently campaigning in the Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin – the only New England House Republican currently serving in Washington.
Golden would be a nightmare opponent for most any GOP candidate, but this is especially true of Poliquin.
The standard Republican attempt to trot out the tired old “liberal elite out-of-touch anti-military egghead” tag will sound downright silly if applied to Golden, a baby-faced tattooed working-class ex-Marine corporal. When Golden rolls up his sleeves to get down to work, he displays a large Celtic cross inked onto his right forearm.
Every politician strives to be regarded as a “man of the people,” but in Golden’s case this is the perfect summary of his bio.
He was born and raised in the tiny town of Leeds, Maine, (population 2,300) before enrolling in the University of Maine at Farmington in hopes of becoming a high school history teacher. Then innocent Americans were killed during the 9/11 attacks of 2001.
Like a lot of young people, Golden put his own life on hold to answer his country’s call of duty. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, following in the footsteps of both grandfathers who saw duty during World War II. He was what we Navy guys used to call – with grudging respect – a “grunt,” serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a combat infantryman.
Returning home after a four-year tour, Golden wound up working three jobs simultaneously to make ends meet, including the night shift at a pizza joint. On his campaign website he openly discusses his struggle with post-traumatic stress, but emphasizes his refusal to let it keep him down.
He eventually returned to school, utilizing his veteran’s benefits to graduate from Bates College in 2011. He also took the rather fascinating step of returning to Afghanistan – not as a warrior this time, but as a volunteer teacher.
Golden later worked for Maine’s legendary Republican stateswoman Susan Collins, serving on the staff for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. In 2014 he was elected to his first term as a state representative from Lewiston. He was subsequently chosen to serve as the assistant Democratic leader, or whip.
Kittery’s own state representative Deane Rykerson, a fellow Democrat, admits he initially viewed Golden, now 35 years old, as “a Jarhead needing a job.”
“So much for first impressions,” Rykerson said. “He showed a continuous quiet determination in his first term that changed my mind. His term as assistant majority leader showed me that he is a great leader without the showmanship.”
In her recent endorsement of Golden, state Speaker of the House Sara Gideon noted “there have been many summer days at the State House when Jared arrives sunburned and grass-stained,” having worked that morning tending the grounds of his family’s business.
Ask Golden why he’s running for Congress and standing up for “everyday folks” is consistently at the top of his list. He can talk at length about the struggles facing the poor, the working class and Maine’s rural population. “I’ll always have your back” is a common phrase heard from his campaign.
Poliquin, now in his second term in Congress, is a product of Philips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Harvard University in Boston. He made millions managing investments in Chicago and New York City before returning home to Maine.
If Golden wins the June Democratic primary, the wealthy Poliquin will have to convince voters in Maine’s 2nd District he understands their lives and struggles better than his Democratic challenger. Poliquin doesn’t seem like a bad guy, but that’s going to be a tough sell.
Which kinda flips the script from a lot of congressional races throughout the country. But prior to Poliquin, the district was represented for 12 years by Mike Michaud, another blue-collar Democrat employed as a mill worker before his election to Congress.
Gideon says Golden “knows the challenges facing small towns in Maine because he grew up in one and still spends many of his days working there. He understands the problems veterans face because he is one. And he knows what it’s like to put in a full day’s work to pay the bills, because he often works double shifts himself.”
Poliquin already has a campaign war chest of nearly $2 million. A Paul Ryan-linked Super PAC has pledged another $1.2 million in ads to boost Poliquin’s re-election effort.
Golden, meanwhile, isn’t accepting donations from corporate PACs, relying instead on grassroots support.
His service in the Marine Corps isn’t in itself justification to vote Golden into Congress. Bearing tattoos doesn’t make him a working-class hero. Juggling multiple jobs doesn’t guarantee he’ll be a champion of the Everyman.
But packing such varied life experiences into a mere three-and-a-half decades has made Golden a candidate who can attract voters feeling abandoned by Democrats in recent years. If the party is to reclaim Congress in 2018, they may need more Golden-like state warriors.
D. Allan Kerr can already foresee the fun headlines writers can play with if Golden wins this seat.
(May 5, 2018)
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