The victor of the race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District will be settled once again by ranked choice voting, meaning that all eyes will now turn to the voters who eschewed the two major party candidates in favor of an independent.
Independent lawyer Tiffany Bond didn’t pursue the same strategy as incumbent Democrat US Rep. Jared Golden and former Republican congressman Bruce Poliquin. She hardly raised any money — a Tuesday tweet indicated she raised and spent just under $5,000 in each category — and instead encouraged people to donate to charities or support local businesses.
Her campaign was built on postcards and doorknocking. She occasionally appeared at events where she did not speak publicly, saying she did not want to make an issue, like the contentious lobster regulations, about herself. She often strove to distinguish herself from her opponents by accusing them of pandering and wasting money on advertisements.
Her unique style did not propel her to victory this year, but it netted her about 6 percent of the vote in the CD2 on Tuesday, a little less than what she and independent Will Hoar netted in 2018. But it was enough to force a rematch ranked choice voting runoff between Golden and Poliquin that year – and again this year.
That means people who put Bond first and ranked another candidate second will have their votes redistributed to their second choices until either candidate reaches 50 percent.
As of Wednesday, Golden had received about 48 percent of the vote and Poliquin got about 44 percent. The outcome will be much-watched nationally, as the control of the House hangs in the balance.
History and recently released polling shows that the majority of Bond voters will support Golden, meaning his currently thin margin of victory is likely to grow when the vote is tabulated on Nov. 15. Initial results show that places where Bond did well tended to be smaller communities with big independent voter shares. Their support shows that the independent-minded voter is still a force in Maine’s more rural district.
Responses to the narrowness of the vote were mixed from candidates. Golden was optimistic Wednesday morning, when about 80 percent of the votes had been returned, saying he expected a ranked choice vote would strengthen his lead over Poliquin.
“The people of Maine’s Second District have turned out in strong numbers, and their collective voice should be heard,” he said in a statement. “Every vote should be counted in accordance with Maine’s election laws.”
Poliquin acknowledged Tuesday night that the race would be close while speaking to supporters, according to the Bangor Daily News. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the announced ranked choice runoff. But Poliquin bitterly fought the first instance of the voting method’s use in his 2018 race against Golden, taking his challenge all the way to Maine’s federal court.
Bond, speaking Wednesday, said she was not surprised that she had lost — she often spoke on the trail about her frustration with her opponents’ refusal to attend debates, which led to all but one of the major candidate forums being canceled. She also reiterated her frustration with what she has characterized as unfair treatment from media outlets who did not pay as much attention to her campaign as Golden and Poliquin’s. That race was marked by millions of dollars in ads, making it the eighth most-expensive House race in the midterms overall, according to OpenSecrets.
But there clearly were places where Bond gained some traction. In Rumford, a rural former mill town that supported Golden on Tuesday, Bond won 10 percent of the vote, according to tabulations compiled by the Bangor Daily News. In the tiny town of Starks, Bond took 16 percent of the vote — and the other 83 percent went to Poliquin.
Those towns both have significant portions of unenrolled voters, with Rumford seeing about 32 percent as of late October and Starks 38 percent, according to Maine Secretary of State data.
Bond picked up much smaller shares in more competitive municipalities like Lewiston and Bangor, where about 7 percent of the votes went to Bond.
Those voters will overwhelmingly go to Golden, a poll commissioned by ranked choice voting advocacy group FairVote found last week. Specifically, 65 percent of Bond voters picked a second choice, and 80 percent of those picked Golden. About 20 percent picked Poliquin.
The poll showed Golden – who played up his House votes against his Democratic party during his campaign – successfully made inroads with independent voters this campaign, said Deb Otis, the FairVote director of research. It also shows that a reluctance to embrace ranked choice voting could continue to hurt Republicans locally — Otis pointed to a Maine GOP statement encouraging voters to rank one candidate last week while assuring them ranked choice is a valid voting option.
“In Maine, independents will wield just as much power as every other voter,” Otis said. “They’re given a chance to participate equally here.”
Bond attributed the support she gained to her local connections within the district. For instance, she noted she has had court cases in Rumford’s district court that made people there familiar with her and sent about 100 postcards to voters there. She also praised the efforts of her roughly 200 volunteers who made contacts with voters.
But she pushed back against the notion that the majority of her supporters picking Golden second in the FairVote poll indicates a similarity between the two candidates. She thought it spoke more to the frustration some voters had with both candidates who found her a reasonable alternative due to her more liberal social stances and fiscally conservative views.
“People saw that I cared about people in both groups,” she said.
Caitlin Andrews covers state government and elections for The Maine Monitor. Reach her by email with story ideas: email@example.com.