By D. Allan Kerr
I’m so damn fascinated by this U.S. Congressional race in Maine’s northern district.
The campaign in this region, mostly rural, symbolizes the nationwide battle for the soul of America’s working class this year. For me, it’s also a flashback to the political party perceptions which seem to have reversed in recent years.
Republicans have had success in recent years convincing voters they are champions for “regular people” – those of us who have to go to work for a paycheck that pays our bills and, if we’re lucky, provides a little bit to set aside for emergencies or fun.
But their candidate – and incumbent – in Maine’s 2nd District is Bruce Poliquin, a hedge-fund millionaire who made his fortune in New York and Chicago before returning home.
Democrats are often portrayed as effete egghead “elites,” but their candidate is an ex-Marine corporal who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning home to Maine.
Poliquin, looking like a balding and bespectacled accountant, doesn’t quite seem to blend with the millworkers and farmers he’s trying to woo.
Golden, tattooed, fit and practically crew-cut, hardly resembles the raging liberal he’s portrayed to be by the GOP.
Poliquin graduated from the prestigious Philips Academy prep school and then Harvard University, both in Massachusetts. After a failed gubernatorial bid, he served as Maine’s state treasurer.
Golden left college after the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001 to join the Marine Corps. Upon his return home he had to work three different jobs to make ends meet, one of them the night shift at a pizza place. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress from his combat experiences and eventually utilized his veteran benefits to graduate from Bates College.
Golden reminds me of the Democratic Party of my youth. Back in the day, in my mind at least, Democrats were the ones standing up for the middle class while the Republican Party looked out for rich folks.
O’Neill, the burly, rumpled Boston-area Irishman known for his famous quote “All politics is local,” was the epitome of the lunchpail politician. Reagan was a major proponent of “trickle-down economics,” favoring the wealthy so eventually some of their riches will trickle down to the rest of us.
Democrats were closely allied with labor unions, who championed the American worker. Republicans were tight with big business and Wall Street.
Gradually, and I haven’t really researched to see where and when it started, the public perception of the Democratic Party became that of an institution more concerned with issues and causes than people. Farmers in Middle America didn’t feel like Democrats were looking out for them.
Poliquin is notorious for once trying to hide in a women’s restroom to avoid a constituent’s questions about his health care vote, which hardly seems courageous. That said, I haven’t heard anyone say he’s evil or corrupt. His wife drowned in a horrible accident early in their marriage and Poliquin proceeded to raise their son as a single dad, a feat difficult not to admire.
But I’m interested to see how he’ll manage to convince voters he’s more in tune with their needs than his opponent.
Golden’s campaign focuses on working-class families and improved access to health care for those who are struggling. It’s consistent with his own background, growing up in the small town of Leeds, Maine, and spending much of his youth working on his family’s small public golf course.
If these were truly “middle-class” tax cuts, why weren’t they limited to people below a certain income? Especially when, having reduced those taxes, Republicans are now saying they can’t give federal workers a cost-of-living pay increase due to budget constraints?
Republicans are trying to cast Golden as a typical gun-hating liberal, which is frankly hilarious. Having carried an M-16 assault rifle as a Marine, Golden knows more about guns than Poliquin ever will.
He enjoys shooting for sport – a recent ad shows him blasting a target and describing himself as a “straight shooter” – and he declined to join those calling for a boycott of Kittery Trading Post for selling assault rifles.
“I’m not going to join some protest outside a business who’s just following the law,” he said.
He supports universal background checks but not raising the legal age to 21 for the purchase of firearms. But he has endorsed the confiscation of weapons from domestic abusers.
“When the NRA attacks me on a vote like that, I just question whether they’re soft on domestic violence, because I sure as hell am not,” Golden told the Portland Press Herald.
He also invited Poliquin to join him on the range for “a good day of shooting,” and says he hasn’t yet received a response.
National money is coming in for both sides, although Golden has declined to accept corporate PAC donations. But ultimately, of course, it’ll be left to the “regular people” of this region to decide who can best represent them in Congress.
And it may be an indicator of whether Democrats nationwide can reclaim their mantle as friend to the working man.
D. Allan Kerr can’t help but wonder if the spirit of John McCain can live on in northern Maine.
(Oct. 6, 2018)
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