Ex-NASCAR driver Austin Theriault running to unseat Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in Maine

FORT KENT, Maine (AP) — NASCAR driver-turned-politician Austin Theriault announced Monday that he is entering the Republican primary seeking an opportunity to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in what is expected to be one of the country's most competitive 2024 House races.

Theriault, who made his announcement on radio shows, said he will “come in with fire" to confront issues like inflation, illegal border crossings and dying small towns. “Regular hardworking folks are getting held down by out-of-touch, out-of-state elites who are clueless about how hard it is to make a living in Maine,” he said.

The 29-year-old freshman state lawmaker from Fort Kent formally filed his paperwork Monday, joining mortgage broker Robert Cross, of Dedham and another first-term lawmaker, Michael Soboleski, of Phillips, in the primary contest.

Theriault would be a strong candidate to challenge Golden in what is expected to be one of the most competitive House races nationally, said Savannah Viar of National Republican Congressional Committee. Theriault has had conversations with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the chair of NRCC, but the committee doesn’t get involved in primaries.

Golden said he's not worrying himself about the primary field.

“That primary is more than eight months away so I’m not very focused on the individual horse race other than to say I’ll face one of them eventually in the fall of 2024. Until then my focus remains on my family and on the work the people of Maine’s Second District elected me to do," Golden said Monday in a statement.

The rural, sprawling 2nd Congressional District has become a hotly contested seat as the region has become a conservative bastion in liberal New England. Former President Donald Trump won the district in 2020, giving him an electoral vote in Maine.

Golden has won three times, twice defeating former GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin thanks to ranked voting. The voting system is designed to ensure the winner collects a majority of the vote by allowing additional voting rounds in which lower-ranked candidates are eliminated and votes are reallocated. It was upheld in federal court after Poliquin sued after his 2018 defeat.

Theriault isn't the only race car driver to try his hand at politics in New England. Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott has for decades been a regular at the Thunder Road track, but his racing career didn't reach the same heights as Theriault.

Theriault launched his career at the local speedway and worked his way to NASCAR’s top level before being injured in a crash at 2019 race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. He has since stepped back from driving, and he consults and mentors other drivers.