Austin Theriault wins Maine GOP primary for chance to unseat Jared Golden

June 12, 2024

AUGUSTA, Maine (BDN) — Former NASCAR driver Austin Theriault easily defeated fellow state lawmaker Mike Soboleski in Tuesday’s Republican primary for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, setting up a showdown with U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in November.

Theriault, a 30-year-old first-term state representative from Fort Kent who runs his own driver development business, beat Soboleski, a 67-year-old Marine veteran from Phillips whose wide-ranging career has included time as an actor, stuntman and small-business owner. 


2024 Maine primary election results

2024 Maine primary election results

See all the results of the 2024 elections in Maine and how your community voted.

The Bangor Daily News and Decision Desk HQ, its election results partner, called the race at 8:37 p.m, when Theriault had 72.9 percent of votes to 27.1 percent for Soboleski.

“The reality is that Jared Golden and [President] Joe Biden have failed us, and we see the results every day,” Theriault said in a statement. “The 2nd District is falling farther and farther behind, and that’s not acceptable to me.”

Theriault had a leg up on Soboleski upon entering the race last year with financial support and backing from national Republicans. He outraised Soboleski 10 to 1 in part due to a March endorsement from former President Donald Trump, who twice won the 2nd District and is seeking to beat Biden despite a felony conviction and other pending cases.

Theriault comfortably won Tuesday’s race while his allies leveled late attacks on his opponent. On Tuesday, a super PAC supporting him compared Soboleski to Biden and misleadingly claimed that he supports abortion rights, even though the underdog candidate expressed support for restrictive “heartbeat bills” that ban abortion after six weeks.

While Soboleski argued he had a stronger conservative voting record than Theriault, the Trump endorsement was important in the race between two candidates who each touted their support for the ex-president and had never sought higher office. 

Theriault repeatedly highlighted Trump’s endorsement in debates, interviews and ads. His pugnacious primary campaign was far different against the one he crafted during his 2022 race for the St. John Valley seat long held by the legendary former House Speaker John Martin, a Democrat from Eagle Lake, when he backed keeping Maine’s permissive abortion laws in place.

He is primed to run aggressively against Golden in the general election, mentioning border security, support for small businesses and drug overdoses as among key issues he feels Golden and Biden are not doing enough on nationally and in the sprawling, rural 2nd District.

A Golden campaign spokesperson said the campaign was “glad for this outcome” and the November contest “is the race we wanted.“

Golden, 41, a third-term congressman and Marine veteran from Lewiston, has benefited from cross-party support during his past campaigns, even narrowly outpolling Trump in the 2nd District when they shared the ballot in 2020. He opposed Biden more than any other congressional Democrat last year, according to a CQ-Roll Call Analysis.

Yet Republicans see an opportunity to bring their voters home against Golden after he abruptly reversed himself to back a ban on so-called assault weapons after the October mass shooting in his home city. Theriault has also campaigned against the Inflation Reduction Act, a climate-tax bill championed by Biden that Golden supported last year.

Soboleski, who spent Tuesday night with a group of supporters at Margaritas Mexican Restaurant in Augusta, said he was proud of his campaign team and emphasized he will focus now on supporting Republican candidates for the Maine House of Representatives. He said he would put a statement Wednesday when asked if he would call Theriault to congratulate him.

“We unturned every stone we could,” Soboleski said. “Unfortunately it didn’t go our way, and the voters have decided what they want to do.”

At the polls in Fort Kent, Theriault’s supporters expressed pride Tuesday in his northern Maine roots while highlighting his younger age.

“He really is there to support the people,” Tracy Caron, a restaurant owner from Fort Kent, said. “We need fresh blood out there, and especially in small communities like this.”

BDN writer Christopher Bouchard contributed to this report.