PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden were locked in a tight race in Maine early Wednesday, with the prospect of a first-in-the-nation re-scoring of the ballots looking increasingly likely.
Poliquin, a two-term representative, was looking to defend his seat in Maine's 2nd Congressional District against Golden in the closely watched race using a ranked-choice ballot. Maine approved ranked-choice voting in 2016 and used it in primaries for the first time in June. The system lets voters rank candidates on the ballot with provisions for candidate eliminations and additional tabulations.
The system comes into play only if no one wins a majority of first-place votes, and that looked like it could be the case in the 2nd District race, in which independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar were also running.
A ranked-choice retabulation would make the Poliquin-Golden showdown the first time such a system was used to send someone to Congress, though a slim chance remained that either could secure enough votes to avoid that scenario.
Also on the ranked-choice ballot were re-election bids by Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and independent Sen. Angus King. Both incumbents won those races.
The 2nd District campaign saw saturation television ad blitzes and Poliquin and Golden calling each other liars.
Golden, a state representative and Marine Corps veteran, highlighted his military service while accusing Poliquin of trying to take away Mainers' access to affordable health care, pledging to create jobs and promising to protect gun rights.
Poliquin, elected in 2014, touted the state's low unemployment rate and his efforts to cut taxes and press for fair trade deals.
He called Golden "a young radical with a socialist agenda" in an attempt to portray him as too far left for the district, which handed an electoral vote to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Financial disclosure reports showed that Golden raised five times more money than Poliquin in the quarter that ended three weeks before the election. It was the most expensive congressional race in the history of the state.
Golden said the fundraising was evidence that "voters are ready for real change, and I'm humbled to have the support of so many Mainers." Poliquin, who maintained a cash-on-hand advantage, insisted that he was "in a strong position in the final weeks of the campaign."
No challenger has defeated an incumbent in the district in more than 100 years.
Voter Tory Dibbins, 53, a Democrat and physical therapist from Portland, said that if Democrats win big in Maine and beyond, then they have to show that they're willing to compromise.
"If you're going to talk about 'let's end the divisiveness and be inclusive,' then you have to try to get people to be more bipartisan. You can't keep going in the path we're on," she said.
In the 1st District, Pingree beat back challenges by independent state Rep. Marty Grohman and Republican Mark Holbrook.
Grohman, of Biddeford, left the Democratic party in 2017 after expressing frustration with partisanship in government. He had hoped to take advantage of the ranked-choice voting system to unseat Pingree, but conceded before 11 p.m.
In the Senate race, King survived challenges by opponents on his ideological right and left.
King, a popular former Maine governor, faced Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey and Democratic activist Zak Ringelstein. King caucuses with the Democrats and was first elected to the Senate in 2012.
During the race, Ringelstein charged that the Democratic establishment abandoned him despite his winning the nomination. He conceded on election night.
Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed.
For AP's complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics