With the Iowa caucuses now only a week away, the 2020 election is nearly in full swing. 435 House districts, 35 Senate races, 11 Gubernatorial races, and the entire presidential map will be in play in only a few months, which makes for both an interesting, and rather hectic, experience. With so much going on at once, it’s difficult to know what exactly to watch during election night, especially for those with less experience in the realm of US politics. I’m going to list a few races to keep an eye on in the coming months; I will continue to add on to this list as the election season progresses. To start, we’ll be going over Maine’s second congressional district, one of the only truly competitive districts in New England.
Located in the northernmost portion of Maine, Maine’s second congressional district is likely to see a lot of attention from local and national politicians as 2020 approaches. This is not only because Maine’s 2nd district is competitive in the US House, but also because of Maine’s unique method of allocating its electoral votes during presidential elections. Instead of a winner-take-all system, Maine allocates only two electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote of the state, while giving out the remaining two to the winners of each congressional district. Going into its political history, this rural district voted for Obama both in 2008 and 2012 by solid margins of 11% and 9% respectively. Come 2016, however, President Trump won this district by a margin of 10%, winning over much of Obama’s former voter base. In the House, his district has been represented by Republican Bruce Poliquin since 2015, having first won by a margin of 5.3% in the 2014 wave election. During the 2018 blue wave, however, this congressional district voted in Democrat Jared Golden through its new Ranked Choice Voting system. Under this system, the winner is not decided by raw vote count alone, but by the second choices of the voters of the worst performing candidate(s). Here, Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin initially won the popular vote (46.3% – 45.6%), but then failed to win the majority of the ranked choice vote (49.5% – 50.5%).
In 2020, this district is going to see two very important races: electing a member to the US House of Representatives, and casting its single electoral vote to one of the presidential candidates. Starting off with the house, incumbent Democrat Golden is heavily favored to win the primary election and is almost certainly going to advance into the highly competitive general election, mostly due to name recognition and lack of serious competition. In the Republican primary, however, there are two major candidates seeking their party’s nomination which could lead to a relatively competitive race. Eric Brakey (who represented the 20th senate district from 2014 to 2016), and Dale Crafts (who represented the 56th house district from 2008 to 2016) are both looking to flip this district back to Republican control. According to Opensecrets.org, Golden has been able to raise $906,000 in campaign contributions, whereas Brakey has only been able to raise $337,000; there is no available information as to how much money Crafts has been able to raise.
In the general election, Golden will almost certainly face a tougher challenge in 2020 than he did in 2018, seeing that the generic ballot has somewhat stabilized from D+8 in 2018, down to D+3.7 according to RCP, or D+5 according to fivethirtyeight. Another factor working against the incumbent congressman is that President Trump, who won this district by double digits in 2016, will be on the ballot. As split-ticket voting becomes more and more rare, Golden will likely have to bank on Trump drastically underperforming his 2016 margin to have a shot at winning reelection. The partisanship of the district, currently rated as R+6 by fivethirtyeight, will also be working against the incumbent congressmen come November 3rd.
Looking at the geography of this race, the bulk of the Republican vote will come from the precincts in the north of the district, covering large swaths of sparsely populated land. As you go further south, the vote share will begin to even out; these are the places to watch. Penobscot County in particular, containing the city of Bangor, accounted for over 20% of the votes cast in the district in 2018 and was won by Republican Poliquin by only 3.3%. Androscoggin County, located just north of Portland, is another key county in this race. It contains the city of Lewiston, and accounted for just over 15% of the votes cast in the district; Golden won this district by only 1,500 votes. Interestingly enough, both Brakey and Crafts represented a portion of this county during their time in the Maine state legislature. Brakey’s district contained the city of Auburn, located just west of Lewiston, whereas Craft’s district represented the town of Lisbon.
In the presidential election, President Trump is currently favored to win this swingy Obama/Trump district; the Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and my own HGN Forecasting all have this district in the R column for the 2020 presidential election. Whether this district will remain in Trump’s favor, though, is likely to depend on the outcome of the 2020 Democratic primary. Some suppose that Bernie Sanders’s strength in northern Maine during the 2016 primaries is an indication that he’d perform better than former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Others might suggest that former Vice President Joe Biden would be able to win back some of the Obama/Trump voters in the district, of which there are many. Void of any poll data, though, and with traditional wisdom clouded by the mercurial Ranked Choice Voting system, the outcome of this race is anything but obvious.
With all of this in mind, when the first precincts start to submit their vote tallies, be sure to spare some of your attention to this seemingly inconspicuous congressional district. Not only does it carry a lot of weight in the US House of Representatives, but also some influence over the outcome of the highly anticipated 2020 presidential race.