The Congressional Race Trump Cares About More Than Any Other
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this race is a bellwether for Trump's rural support.
By Nick Fouriezos
- Republican postal services business owner Dale Crafts should be a good fit for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District — but he’s trailing badly.
- This rural district has drawn outsize attention from Trump because it could be critical to the presidential race.
When Dale Crafts threw himself out of a plane last month, he had a selfless enough reason — to support a local veterans charity. But it didn’t hurt that skydiving had long been on the paraplegic’s bucket list. Presented with the opportunity while running for Congress in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, the 61-year-old didn’t hesitate. “I don’t want to seem like some tough guy,” Crafts says, “but I wasn’t nervous at all.”
His only concern? “I didn’t really know how they were going to land me. I didn’t ask,” Crafts says. Which is how he found himself chucked out of a Cessna 182 … and unsure of exactly what would happen once he hit the ground. “We skidded,” Crafts recounts, laughing even though the experience left him with a leg spasm that would ache for days. “It was like tilling: dirt flying everywhere.”
It is an image rife with symbolism in a year that’s seemed to defy gravity, and it fit with the risk-taking style of a man who owns three companies, including a postal services franchise, and lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident in his 20s.
Crafts’ congressional campaign has been in a free fall too, with polls showing him trailing Democratic Rep. Jared Golden by 20-plus percentage points — even though the freshman only won this rural, Trump-friendly district by 1 point two years ago. Which leaves Crafts with a question he didn’t have to worry about in his tandem dive: When is somebody going to pull the parachute?
They can say what they want, but I’m willing to sit down and talk.
Cue the president. Donald Trump has worked as hard to lift Crafts as he has for any congressional candidate. Trump recently called Crafts for the second time this year — a call which the campaign quickly cut into ads and ran on Facebook. Last month, Trump sent his son Donald Jr. to rally for Crafts in the 2nd Congressional District, stating the importance of the race in stark terms. “You never know where things are gonna go,” the younger Trump said in a radio interview. “Maine is one of those states that you have that split — every vote counts, every Electoral College vote counts, and we’re gonna go after all of ’em.”
And that’s why Trump cares so much about this single House race, in a year when Republicans have little prayer of retaking the chamber. Maine awards four Electoral College votes: two for the overall state winner, and one for each of its two districts. In Trump’s narrow paths to reelection, ME-2’s sole electoral vote (which Trump won by 10 points in 2016) could force a 269-269 tie that would send the election to the House of Representatives.
Given that closeness, Trump is relying on Crafts to run a strong campaign and drive up GOP turnout for him and embattled GOP Sen. Susan Collins. But the OZY/0ptimus predictive election model — which crunches polls, demographics and much more to give odds of victory in every race in the country — gives Crafts only an 11 percent chance of beating Golden, even as Trump’s race with Biden remains a 50-50 “toss-up” in the district. When asked if he believes what the polls suggest, that he is running behind Trump on his home turf, Crafts answers bluntly: “I am.”
That’s a surprising turn of events for Crafts, a relatively scandal-free and likable former state senator known for helping pass a massive state tax cut and serving on the popular Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee (it was a coup for the avid hunter, who brags about having bagged a moose last year). Crafts was recruited to the pivotal race by former Gov. Paul LePage precisely for his electability and résumé. “I don’t think it has to do with Crafts as a candidate … For whatever reason, his candidacy has failed to catch on,” says Mark Brewer, a University of Maine political scientist.
Crafts was a high school running back who later overcame his accident with help from his Christian faith to build a successful career and family, which now includes his wife, six kids and 14 grandchildren. “What Dale brings to the table is his authenticity. He is a very good reflection of the families in the second district,” says former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whom Golden beat in 2018. “He’s honest … and I don’t think he can be bought,” adds Debbie Coffins, a retired construction inspector from Livermore Falls.
Speaking at a GOP women’s event at a BBQ joint in Lewiston, Crafts makes his best pitch for a turnaround, saying repeatedly that Washington needs more moderate, less heated politics. Yet he also calls the Democrats “socialists” and his opponent, Golden, “a chameleon” who has hoodwinked Mainers into thinking he is a moderate. He also accuses Golden of supporting the Defund the Police movement, a dubious claim given that Golden co-sponsored a bill that would bar federal funding for localities that defund their police. “He said nothing, until they started polling and found 80 percent of Americans don’t support it,” Crafts responds when asked if the attack line is fair. (The Golden campaign did not respond to requests for comment.)
Golden himself has launched potentially misleading ads, including one that says Crafts would work to end health care protections for preexisting conditions. “I’ve only been in a wheelchair for 37 years … I want to get rid of them, right?” Crafts sarcastically declares in his speech. Later, he says he would overturn Obamacare but would advocate for a free-market approach that covers preexisting conditions, an area he points to as a sign of his willingness to compromise. “They can say what they want, but I’m willing to sit down and talk,” he argues.
Still, Crafts may be at risk of preaching to the choir at events like this — and his fundraising challenges mean he may struggle to reach swing voters. “It’s all about turnout,” Crafts says, promising to spend more in the final weeks to introduce voters to his message. “Now we’re getting who I am out.” If Crafts can somehow stick this landing, it might just beat that time he fell 11,000 feet and lived to tell the tale.