Don’t let Trump obscure the importance of congressional races

President Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, full of corrupt swamp creatures and beset by investigations, threatens to block out attention to congressional and state campaigns, but it also makes them even more important.

Which political party controls Congress really matters if we are to exert some control over a presidential administration so unmoored from reality and oddly connected to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

One photograph from last week is haunting, showing Trump and Putin walking to their Helsinki press conference after two hours alone. Trump, usually blustery, looks beaten down and subservient, as Putin looks confident, even cocky.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland on July 16. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

At their joint appearance, Trump threw out bizarre claims about Democrats’ computer servers (which are cloud-based and were copied by the FBI). He called Russia interrogating a top U.S. diplomat and other Americans an “interesting idea.” Trump took Putin’s word over multiple American intelligence agencies’ regarding the cyber warfare Putin oversaw to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump.  

Since then Trump has changed positions multiple times on whether Russia is responsible. One day he says he meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of “would” and another he’s tweeting it’s all a big hoax.

We’re in midst of developing scandal involving a Russian spy, Marina Butina, who wormed her way into American conservative groups, including the NRA, yet the Trump administration just repealed requirements that the group disclose its donors.

Meanwhile, nearly three dozen people have been indicted so far as part of the Mueller investigation and one trial starts next week.

Rather than fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities, House Republicans show no interest in accountability. As a tape of a 2016 internal meeting revealed, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: [California Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher and Trump,” and House Speaker Paul Ryan replied, “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

Recently House Republicans voted unanimously against increasing funds for states to protect elections.

The continuing support for Trump among a shrinking Republican base makes it exceedingly unlikely that elected Republicans will hold Trump accountable. Congressional Republicans haven’t even passed anything on the horrific immigrant family separation policy.

This makes Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which national prognosticators consider a toss-up race, nationally important.

As David Wasserman of the respected Cook Political Report put it, “[Bruce] Poliquin won’t be easy to beat” but Jared Golden “is the type of Democrat who could take advantage of a favorable national environment.” Besides having a strong base, Golden can “contrast himself as a ‘Marine who runs into fire’ against an incumbent who ‘ducks into bathrooms’ when asked which way he’ll vote on repealing the ACA.”

According to Wasserman, there’s an obvious “biggest hurdle” for Golden: the much greater amount of money Poliquin has in the bank.

Indeed, Poliquin has the financial advantage right now. He’s outraised Golden and had $2.7 million cash on hand as of the end of June, compared to less than $360,000 in Golden’s coffers.

While Poliquin has more money and he has financial help from lots of different groups, some are not all that liked. Is having the bankers association run ads for Poliquin (along with huge donations from the financial sector) such a positive for the public? What about Poliquin getting an award from a Koch brothers’ funded group that supports privatizing Social Security and Medicare (which would produce a windfall for the financial sector but leave seniors less secure) and repealing the Affordable Care Act?

Moreover, the details behind the campaign accounts suggest Poliquin is dependent on big pocket donors over grassroots givers.

Over 53 percent of Poliquin’s funds come from Political Action Committees and only 1 percent is from people giving under $200.

Perhaps the most stunning financial figure is that, despite having raised so much more than Golden, Poliquin raised less from people giving under $200 — just $32,000 — compared to the $307,000 Golden raised in donations under $200.

Golden refuses funds from corporate PACs but his donors may be able to give a bit more or volunteer on the campaign, while Poliquin’s big donors and PACs face limits in their direct giving. In today’s political world, a viral Golden ad could level the financial playing field.

Meanwhile, people are unhappy with the direction of the country. After the Trump tax law passed with Poliquin’s vote, workers’ wages have fallen. And with other problems swirling, including the upheaval in the White House, the advantages big money brings may only go so far.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.