When it came time to vote on the massive $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s Second Congressional District faced a dilemma. With all 210 Republican members lined up against the bill, Pelosi couldn’t afford Democratic defections. With many people in the famously frugal Pine Tree State appalled by the proposal’s staggeringly high price tag, the sophomore congressman couldn’t afford to make voters upset, either. He had to pick one or the other.
Golden picked the folks back home, becoming one of only two House Democrats to say “nay” to the stimulus measure. (The other was Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon.)
“Borrowing and spending hundreds of billions more in excess of meeting the most urgent needs poses a risk to both our economic recovery and the priorities I would like to work with the Biden administration to achieve, like rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure and fixing our broken and unaffordable healthcare system,” Golden said.
The Second District is classic Down East New England. Snuggled along the border with Canada and stretching to the rocky upper Atlantic coastline, it is the largest and most rural district east of the Mississippi River. More than 72 percent of its population is rural. (Only Kentucky’s 5th District is more rural.)
And once candidates win office, they tend to stay in as long as they wish. In fact, when Golden won this House seat in 2018, it was the first time an incumbent had been defeated in the district since 1916.
Last November, Democrat Golden comfortably won a second term even as Donald Trump carried the district for a second time. In fact, it was the only New England congressional district the Republican nominee carried in 2020.
When Golden voted with the GOP and against his party’s COVID package, the backlash from progressives was swift and intense. Amy Fried, chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Maine and a Golden supporter, called vote against the stimulus package “utter nonsense.”
Golden didn’t win kudos from Republicans either, which claims he only votes against Pelosi and the Democratic caucus when his vote isn’t actually needed.
“Jared Golden continues to make decisions with no rhyme or reason, other than to perpetuate the made-up moderate persona he uses for tv ads. While Jared attempts to be coy with his constituents, Mainers on both sides of the aisle are seeing right through his charade.” Dr. Demi Kouzounas, chair of the Maine Republican Party told InsideSources.
And Maine progressives immediately took to social media to call for a primary challenger to take on Golden. It didn’t take long. Just one week after the vote, a progressive activist from Bangor filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission declaring himself a candidate in next year’s Democratic Primary. While Michael Sutton may not be viewed as a serious threat — his bid for Bangor City Council garnered just seven votes in last year’s primary — his candidacy could be a sign of things to come.
This isn’t the first time Golden has been targeted by both parties.
During Trump’s first impeachment, Golden voted “no” on one of the two articles of impeachment, the only member of Congress to do so. Democrats at the time were furious, while Republicans complained he wasn’t properly representing his district, which Trump carried by 10 points in 2016.
More recently, Golden was one of just two Democrats who voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, despite supporting an earlier version of the bill a few months earlier. And he was the only Democrat to vote against H.R. 8, a gun-control bill that would have expanded background checks. “I believe my votes today remain the right decision, but I know some of my constituents feel differently,” he said at the time.
The politics of Golden’s voting pattern are apparent. Pelosi and the Democrats have a narrow majority, but it’s large enough to allow Golden to vote no without endangering their legislative priorities. Meanwhile, there are plenty of progressive causes, like Medicare For All and a mandatory $15 minimum wage, where Golden is firmly in line with his party’s left flank.
Medicare For All, which would force about 150 million Americans out of their current insurance plans, is a particularly problematic issue in a district with as many older voters as Golden’s. Many current Medicare enrollees have concerns about what a national, single-payer Medicare-For-All system would mean for the access to and quality of their care.
The question is whether America’s polarized politics have room for what was commonly known in the 1980s as “Blue Dog Democrats” — moderates who often supported Republican Pres. Ronald Reagan but were still members in good standing of their party.
Current numbers don’t look good. Between 1950 and 2000, more than 20 percent of American voters split their votes between the two parties. In the past three election cycles, it fell below 10 percent. Golden’s district is just one of 16 — out of 435 — that voted for a presidential candidate of one party and a congressional candidate from the other.
Can a Democrat like Golden continue to buck that trend?