AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s 2nd District Democratic primary will present voters with a choice between the starkly different approaches of a polished dealmaker from the district’s most populous county and a plainspoken working-class advocate from a remote logging town.
With just days remaining until the June 10 primary, Emily Cain and Troy Jackson are making last-minute pitches as they seek to take on either Bruce Poliquin or Kevin Raye this fall and maintain control of the largely rural district that Democrats have held for 20 years.
Cain says her willingness to work across the aisle and her experience in negotiating billion-dollar budgets in Augusta will break down partisan barriers in Congress. Jackson, who’s pledged to be a voice for blue-collar residents, vows to remain firm against the GOP on issues like health care.
“We don’t need any more tea party Republicans, and we don’t need any more Democrats that compromise with tea party Republicans,” said the 45-year-old logger from Allagash, who served in the state Senate alongside Cain.
He criticizes his opponent for being too eager to concede to Republicans, like her vote in the state Senate in 2011 for a budget that included $400 million in tax cuts — now touted as one of GOP Gov. Paul LePage’s biggest accomplishments.
But Cain says her ability to remain at the negotiating table is exactly what Congress needs.
“So much progress has been held up because of personality politics and fighting in Washington,” the 34-year-old Cain said. “I don’t think that everything will change overnight … but I do think that you need people there that have real experience working across the aisle if you want to see that change happen.”
But the two differ in more ways than just style.
Among several things, Cain highlights that Jackson was the only Democratic state senator to vote against legalizing same-sex marriage in 2009. He says his views have since evolved and he wishes he could take back that vote.
Cain was born in Kentucky and lived in several states before attending the University of Maine, where she does marketing and alumni relations for the honors college.
Jackson says he’s the only candidate with deep Maine roots and the ability to relate to struggling workers.
His background fits the mold of a traditional 2nd District candidate and is appealing to voters there, political observers say. Rep. Mike Michaud, who’s held the seat since 2003 and is leaving to run for governor, worked in the northern Maine mills before going to Washington.
“If he’s got a big strength in this race against Emily Cain, it is that contrast,” said Brian Duff, political science professor with the University of New England.
But Cain’s fundraising advantage will play a big factor, more so than in the Republican primary where the candidates are well-known statewide, said Jim Melcher, political science professor at the University of Maine Farmington.
Cain had nearly $145,000 cash on hand after the most recent campaign finance deadline while Jackson’s campaign had just under $20,000. She’s also won the support of powerful groups like the League of Conservation Voters, which recently pumped $150,000 into a mail campaign attacking Jackson for voting against measures to reduce carbon pollution from coal power plants and for co-sponsoring LePage’s bill to eliminate Maine’s wind energy targets.
Despite their differences, both candidates say maintaining the seat is essential for Democrats. Republicans are looking at Michaud’s departure as a prime opportunity to put a conservative back in Washington.
“Maine only gets two votes in the House, and we need to make sure that we are pulling in a positive direction for Maine,” Cain said.
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