LEWISTON — Maine’s Republican candidates for governor had a chance to turn the tables Thursday night, asking each other about their ties to the tea party movement, campaign expenditures and rumors circulating on a political website.

The seven men spent an hour at the Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s studio in Lewiston, answering routine questions about jobs, health care and the economy.

When given a chance to quiz one another, many of them opted to ask questions about less traditional topics.

Matt Jacobson asked Waterville Mayor Paul LePage about his support among members of the tea party movement, and whether that makes him less likely to win the general election in November.

“I will tell you one thing,” LePage said. “Sixty percent of the people in Maine have French heritage. They have been Democrats since 1922. The one thing a French person likes more than a Democrat is another Frenchman.”

Bruce Poliquin asked Steve Abbott about his time as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and whether her moderate votes — particularly in support of the $800 billion economic stimulus package — means he is not a fiscal conservative.

“She did vote for the stimulus,” Abbott said. “That’s not a vote I would have cast if I were a senator.”

Poliquin continued to question Les Otten’s ability as a businessman because of his tenure with American Skiing Co. “American Skiing took on massive amounts of debt that he could not pay,” Poliquin said.

On camera, Otten said that Poliquin has a “right to an opinion, but not to create his own facts.”

During a break, Otten put a hand on Poliquin’s shoulder and said: “Every bondholder and all debt was paid back. Just get it right.”

The seven Republicans were working for any advantage possible, with the June 8 election just 12 days away.

Thursday’s debate, while breaking little new ground, was a refreshing change from the dozens of joint public appearances the field has made since January. Moderator Jennifer Rooks asked pointed questions of each candidate, as well as general questions about jobs and health care.

State Sen. Peter Mills asked Otten about his investment of more than $1 million of his own money to run for governor. He asked if Otten will be willing to work in state government if he doesn’t win the primary.

Otten said he enjoys marketing. “I would love to be an adviser about solving Maine’s problems,” he said.

Abbott asked Bill Beardsley if rumors circulating on the As Maine Goes website are true.

One post in recent days has speculated that Beardsley is running for governor as a personal favor to Collins, because Beardsley will pull votes away from fellow conservative LePage. The net effect would be to help Abbott.

Beardsley hired Collins to work at Husson University after she lost the race for governor in 1994.

“That is a terrible insult to Susan,” Beardsley said, adding that he wouldn’t be putting hundreds of thousands of his own dollars into the campaign if that rumor were true.

“We’re battling for the conservative side, there’s absolute truth to that,” he said.

LePage asked Mills about an answer he gave at a recent debate indicating he believes health care is a right, not a privilege.

Mills said he doesn’t think a terminally ill 6-year-old should be denied help because his parents can’t afford it.

“We have a moral imperative to provide some level of care,” he said.

Beardsley asked Jacobson how faithful he would be to upholding the Maine and U.S. constitutions.

“Myself and 185,000 Maine veterans took an oath to defend the Constitution, with my life if necessary,” Jacobson said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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