As Maine voters go to the polls to vote in local primaries on Tuesday, Beacon will be watching how progressives fare in their bids for the Maine State Legislature and local school boards. We’ll also be keeping an eye on the Republican primary for Maine’s Second Congressional District, where former Rep. Bruce Poliquin and newcomer Liz Caruso are competing to court voters loyal to former President Donald Trump.
Here’s our rundown of primary results to watch.
The progressive road to Augusta
Due to redistricting, the Maine State Legislature, currently controlled by Democrats, could be among the most competitive battlegrounds in the U.S. this November, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.
Hoping to push the Maine Democratic Party to face this challenge by backing policies that are responsive to the needs of working Mainers, progressives are running campaigns centered on issues like guaranteed access to health care, tackling Maine’s affordable housing crisis, strong funding for education and addressing climate change.
In House District 141, newly redrawn to include Shapleigh, Newfield and parts of Springvale and Sanford, Patty Kidder is facing John McAdam in the Democratic primary.
Kidder, who ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2020, is a longtime activist with Maine People’s Alliance (of which Beacon is a project) who has done volunteer work on issues ranging from supporting Medicare for All to pushing for a statewide consumer-owned utility to replace Central Maine Power and Versant.
In a Democratic primary in Penobscot-county based Senate District 8, Mike Tipping is facing Orono Brewing Company co-owner Abe Furth to fill the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Jim Dill, a conservative Democrat who is termed out.
Tipping, a senior strategist at MPA and the founder of Beacon, and has worked on campaigns to raise Maine’s minimum wage and clean up mercury in the Penobscot River.
Other progressives are running unopposed in their primaries. In House District 95 in Lewiston, community organizer and Bates College intercultural education coordinator Mana Abdi is running as a Democrat to replace Rep. Heidi Brooks, who is term-limited. Abdi would be the first Somali-American to serve in the legislature if ultimately elected.
Affordable housing activist Cheryl Golek is also running unopposed in the Democratic primary for Harpswell-based House District 99 after her only opponent recently dropped out. In Kennebunk, education advocate and Maine Democratic Party platform committee member Dan Sayre is the sole member of his party running for House District 135.
And in Waterville, seeking to work outside of the two-party system, Isreal Mosley is running as a progressive independent for House District 65, a seat that will likely feature a three-way race with a Democrat and a Republican in November.
Another legislative race of note on Tuesday is Senate Democrats’ bid to hold onto a seat in the swing district of Hancock County in a special election between Republican Brian Langley, who previously held the seat, and Democratic Rep. Nicole Grohoski, a legislative champion of a ballot initiative to replace Central Maine Power and Versant with a consumer-owned utility.
Maine media has described the special election as a potential bellwether for how Democrats will fare in the fall.
Who’s more MAGA in CD2?
In the Republican primary for Maine’s Second Congressional District, where former Congressman Bruce Poliquin is facing Liz Caruso of Caratunk, the candidates are both embracing Trump and his policies.
The favored Poliquin, who is backed by national Republican groups, has refused to debate underdog Caruso. Caruso — a former executive director of the local chamber of commerce, registered Maine whitewater guide and homeschool mom — has attempted to cast herself as the “real conservative outsider” in the race, compared to Poliquin, who she described as an establishment Republican and “career politician.”
If elected, Caruso has said she would align herself with Trump’s biggest supporters in Congress, like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who have all pushed the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theory that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.
Caruso has also stoked the conservative panic over public schools. “We can’t trap our children in classrooms and force radical ideology on them,” she said at the Republican convention in May.
Poliquin, who also urged Trump not to resign after the 2020 election results were announced, has played up his connection to the former president in the primary.
“President Trump chose me, with my 40 years of private business experience, to Chair the [Securities Investor Protection Corporation] so I could help protect seniors’ retirements,” Poliquin said in a Facebook post. “From President Trump’s appointment to my work defending Life and our 2nd Amendment, fighting for Maine jobs, and cutting waste as our State Treasurer, I have a proven conservative record which I will put to work again in Congress.”
The winner of the race will attempt in November to unseat Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country.
In his two-terms in Congress, Golden has drawn the ire of many progressives as he has become one of Congress’ more conservative Democrats. He has taken votes against President Joe Biden’s social spending package, Build Back Better, and his COVID relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act. He voted for only one impeachment count against Trump and recently voted against a gun control bill passed after the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.
School boards will be battlegrounds of GOP culture war
School board elections are also taking place on Tuesday against the backdrop of a national Republican Party that is trying to animate its base with conspiracies about public schools being centers for idealogical and sexual “grooming.” Last month, the Maine GOP amended its platform to include policies targeting LGBTQ people and scare-words like “critical race theory,” which is not actually taught in K-12 education and instead is an academic theory studied at the college level that examines the intersection of race and U.S. law.
In Maine’s largest city, 12 candidates are vying for three seats on Portland Public School’s nine-person Board of Education.
In Portland, school board elections are usually scheduled for November, but with former members Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodriguez being elected to the Portland City Council and Jeff Irish resigning last October, new elections are set for Tuesday.
Progressive Portland, an organization that advocates for policies at the city level, conducted a survey and last week endorsed Sarah Brydon for District 2 and Sarah Lentz and Ben Grant for the two at-large seats.
Petition to get rid of CMP
Also on Tuesday, grassroots volunteers with Our Power, the organization that is leading the effort to replace CMP and Versant with a statewide consumer-owned utility, will be collecting signatures at several polling places across the state. The volunteers are trying to get a consumer-owned utility on the ballot in 2023.
Gov. Janet Mills, who is not facing a Democratic primary challenger on Tuesday, last year vetoed a bill that would have allowed Maine voters to weigh in on a consumer-owned utility in November.
Top photo by David Paul Morris, Getty.