Former NASCAR driver Austin Theriault to face Jared Golden in Maine’s 2nd District

June 12, 2024

Maine Public | By Kevin Miller

Published June 11, 2024 at 10:18 PM EDT

Former NASCAR driver Austin Theriault has won the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden this fall in Maine’s closely watched 2nd Congressional District.

The Associated Press called the race for Theriault about an hour after the polls closed in Maine. Early returns showed the 30-year-old Fort Kent native with a large lead over his primary opponent, Mike Soboleski of Phillips.

Both men are first-term legislators in the Maine House who campaigned on conservative issues such as the economy and inflation, border security and government overspending.

But Theriault raised roughly 10 times as much money as Soboleski. He also picked up endorsements from former President Donald Trump, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson and leaders of the National Republican Congressional Committee as well as local officials in Maine. That huge financial advantage allowed him to run a more aggressive ground campaign in the sprawling 2nd District and to advertise heavily on TV and radio.

Theriault’s win sets up a fall contest between a young, former NASCAR driver and Golden, a 41-year-old Marine Corps veteran who is seeking a fourth term in Congress.

Speaking to several dozen supporters at Dysart’s Restaurant in Bangor, Theriault said many 2nd District voters feel disenfranchised and forgotten in today’s political climate.

“The working people here in Maine feel left behind and it has been going on for too long,” Theriault said. “We need more voices in DC, we need more voices around the state that are willing to stand up and speak up for what’s right, speak up for the people who sacrifice and work hard every single day for their families and are not getting help right now. Now is our time to fight back against what is going on.”

Golden is a moderate Democrat who has split with his party leadership and President Joe Biden more than any other member of the Democratic caucus in the House. But like many rural areas, the 2nd District has become increasingly conservative, as evidenced by Trump’s victories there in both 2016 and 2020.

Theriault raced for more than a decade at local tracks and on regional circuits before getting his first start in a top-level NASCAR race in 2019. But he was forced to curtail the season after being injured in a chain reaction crash after several races.

Two years later, he opted to step out of the driver’s seat and focus on the business side of racing, especially on driver development. He has emphasized that business experience as well as his endorsement by Trump throughout his campaign.

He has portrayed Golden as being too cozy with Biden’s priorities and contends that a Republican representative will better reflect the priorities of 2nd District voters. He also pledged, if elected, to support the Trump agenda on border security, drug trafficking and supporting manufacturing.

“The question I have to ask us is do we want Jared Golden representing our district for another two years, electing a very liberal progressive Speaker of the House, knowing that the agenda that those people are going to push across are detrimental to the 2nd District?” Theriault said in his Bangor victory speech. “We need a common-sense, forward-looking, business-minded conservative representing the 2nd District here.”

At age 30, Theriault is six years younger than Golden was when he won his first election to Congress. Since his first election in 2018, Golden has established himself as a moderate in a Democratic Party increasingly controlled by progressives.

He last won reelection in 2022 with 53% of the vote following a ranked-choice runoff with former Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.