The four candidates in Maine’s U.S. Senate race discussed health care, judicial nominations, money in politics and other issues during a lively and fast-paced first debate in a race with potential national implications.
Friday night’s debate was the first time that the two front-runners, incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Sara Gideon, appeared together on a stage less than two months before the election. The event was co-sponsored by the Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News and News Center Maine.
Collins and Gideon traded barbs over the senator’s support for President Trump’s judicial nominees and about the huge amounts of money flowing into the race, which is already far and away the most expensive race in Maine history.
At one point, Gideon herself asked Collins a question that she has been fielding for months but so far declined to answer: who will she support in the upcoming election?
“I don’t think that the people of Maine need my advice on whom to support for president,” Collins replied. “Last week I was on a bus tour all over the state of Maine. Not a single person asked me who should be the next president. What they did say was how grateful they were for the Paycheck Protection Program that I wrote because it preserved their job or their small business.”
But Gideon later returned to the issue as she accused Trump of choosing to “sow division and hatred, even putting tear gas into the crowds of peaceful protesters” in response to racial justice rallies.
“We also need real leadership and I think that is why people keep asking Susan Collins who she thinks should be leading this country,” said Gideon, who is Maine’s House Speaker. “It’s not that Mainers are looking for advice about who to vote for. It’s that they want to know who their senator thinks should be leading us.”
The two independents in the race, Lisa Savage of Solon and Max Linn of Bar Harbor, also had their first major chance to be heard by large numbers of Maine voters who have endured months of political ads — much of them negative — about the two major-party candidates.
Savage, who is registered as a Green Independent, spoke repeatedly about her support for a Green New Deal to help revitalize Maine’s economy as well as Medicare for All.
But Linn lived up to his reputation as the wildcard in the race, repeatedly declining to answer questions and instead attempt to talk about issues he wanted to highlight. But in the process of portraying himself as “that something different” to big-money politics, Linn missed his chance to address some of the major issues of the 2020 elections, including health care.
“A lot of times when our moderators ask me a question, I might put that question aside,” Linn said. “I might put that question aside because I know that I have to slay these giants, and it’s not going to be easy. So I am going to have to be outside the box.”
This story will be updated.