Sep. 28—PORTLAND — For the first and perhaps last time in Maine's 2nd District campaign, the three congressional candidates shared a debate stage Tuesday that served to highlight the policy differences among the trio of contenders.
Much of the hour-long debate sponsored by News Center Maine saw two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, sparring with Republican challenger Bruce Poliquin of Orrington, a former congressman Golden unseated four years ago.
They clashed on a range of hot issues, including inflation, abortion and border security.
"It was like two feral cats," said independent Tiffany Bond of Portland, the other challenger in the sprawling rural district that backed the reelection of President Donald Trump in 2020. Two years ago, it was the most Trump-friendly district in the country to elect a Democratic member of Congress.
Despite some harsh words, the two men and Bond all shook hands with each other at the end of televised session, which puts it ahead of one of the debates in 2018 when Golden and Poliquin refused to shake each other's hands after a heated showdown.
Voters will get their say on Nov. 8 in a ranked-choice election that allows them to make both a first and a second-choice selection on the ballot. If no candidate gets at least 50% of the vote in the initial count, the last place finisher will be dropped from contention and his or her votes redistributed to their second pick, if they made one.
In 2018, that process, used for the first time in a federal election, led to a situation where Poliquin had the lead after the first round but lost narrowly to Golden in the final tally because most of the people who chose Bond or independent Will Hoar as their top selection, opted for Golden rather than the Republican incumbent.
None of the candidates in the debate, though, sought specifically to be anybody's second choice this time around.
Golden, 40, said Tuesday that "no one has been a more fierce, independent voice for you. I have voted against the Biden administration more than any other Democrat in Congress. I have voted against my own party more than any other Democrat in Congress. I do that proudly for you."
Poliquin, 68, who served as state treasurer and as a two-term congressman, said Golden typically votes with his party and sides with President Joe Biden.
The Republican said that "politics is not my career" but he "came out of semi-retirement" anyway because he could see the state and nation are in "deep trouble" because of the policies of "extreme Democrats."
Bond, a 46-year-old family lawyer who works in rural Maine, said that voters need to elect someone who will take the job seriously.
"We have been stuck in this icky place," she said, where the other candidates bicker with each other instead of getting things done in a bid to raise more money for television commercials "to torture you with."
Each of the candidates offered a different take on what the country ought to do about abortion in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer that threw out the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had offered protection for a woman's right to choose.
Golden said he is pro-choice and believes women should have the right to make up their own minds until it is viable for a fetus to live on its own. That has been Maine's standard for decades.
Poliquin, though, said he is "pro-life and very proud of it."
He said he is content to let each state make up its own mind about what the standard should be for its people. "Leave it to the states," he said.
Bond, who is pro-choice, bemoaned a system that has allowed the abortion issue to become so heated instead of remaining something between women and their medical providers.
"Shame on all of us for allowing this to become a political issue," she said.
She said that late-term abortions, which are more controversial, only happen to "very wanted children" who are aborted only after much anguish and heartache. She said nobody waits so long to get an abortion unless there is a medical reason for it.
Both Poliquin and Golden agreed there should be term limits.
Golden said House members should be able to serve "three or four" two-year terms and senators "one or two" six-year terms. Poliquin said 12 years is enough for anyone on Capitol Hill.
Bond said she opposes term limits.
She said they would have the effect of propelling more wealthy people into politics and "give lobbyists the advantage" in Washington because they alone would have the long experience on how to get things done.
Poliquin has sought throughout the campaign to call attention to what he views as lax security along America's borders under the Biden administration.
He said during the debate that Democrats "invited everybody to America" and essentially opened the borders to immigrants and "a flood of fentanyl."
Golden called the difference between his position and Poliquin's "a non-issue," insisting he's voted for more than twice as much money to bolster border security during his four years in the House than Poliquin ever did in his four years in Washington.
Bond said immigration issues have suffered from "massive legislative neglect" for years. She said the nation needs to come up with a fair, equitable system that helps the so-called Dreamers, who came to the country as children and have never known another land.
Poliquin said assisting the Dreamers has to wait until the country secures its borders.
Poliquin said the solution to spiraling prices, a worldwide phenomenon, is to "stop this crazy, wasteful spending of trillions of dollars."
He said that his four decades of experience in "the real world" of business would help clamp down on spending that he says is driving up costs, especially for energy.
"Some folks on the stage just have no experience in the real world," he said.
Golden, who served in the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the recently adopted Inflation Reduction Act will make a difference to help America's energy independence by encouraging more drilling and infrastructure while also investing in new technologies that will help the nation move to a greener future.
Bond said Congress needs to consider grants and loans to encourage efforts to improve the economy's resilience, suggesting as an example that the soon-to-close paper mill in Jay could perhaps become a site to manufacture insulin or house vertical agriculture.
ODDS AND ENDS
Each of the three candidates said they would accept the results of this year's ranked-choice vote.
Golden and Bond said they accepted the results of the 2020 presidential election, but Poliquin said, "There were irregularities."
He said, though, that he trusts the results in Maine.
Each of the candidates said that dealing with climate change is important.
Bond and Golden said the recent decision to add up to 87,000 Internal Revenue Service staffers during the next decade is necessary to cope with a severe backlog and respond to taxpayers more quickly.
Poliquin, however, opposed hiring the IRS personnel until the IRS does a better job.
"I don't believe in rewarding incompetence," Poliquin said.
Golden and Poliquin said they are against Biden's decision to wipe out hundreds of millions of dollars in student loan debt. Golden called it "a terrible mistake."
Bond said she'd like to see the nation clear away the interest charges on everyone's loans.
Bond and Golden said they'd like to see Congress pass legislation to protect marriage equality in case the Supreme Court undermines decisions that allowed gay marriage and interracial marriages. Poliquin said it would be best to wait and see what the Court does.
STATUS OF THE RACE
Public polling has been largely non-existent in the race, but election observers generally think the race is going to be close.
The Cook Political Report rates it a toss up, an assessment shared by the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.
FiveThirtyEight sees it leaning slightly Golden's way. It gives him a 63% chance of winning reelection.
Fox News sees the district leaning toward Poliquin while The Economist rates it a likely GOP win. It gives Poliquin an 89% chance of victory.
* Steamed about lobster: Maine congressional candidates get snippy over donation