AUGUSTA – Four Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate appealed to central Maine’s voters Friday, each saying he is the best candidate to reduce federal spending and borrowing.

Former state Sen. Rick Bennett, businessman Scott D’Amboise, Attorney General William Schneider and Secretary of State Charlie Summers answered questions about the federal budget, energy, education, health care and other topics during the second weekly GOP candidate forum of the primary campaign.

About 70 people attended the two-hour event at the Elks Lodge.

Six Republicans will be on the June 12 primary ballot, seeking the nomination for Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat.

Debra Plowman, assistant majority leader in the state Senate, could not attend the forum because she was working in the Legislature late Friday. State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin had another engagement in Dover-Foxcroft.

While the questions submitted by voters were wide ranging, much of the forum focused on the national debt and the size of the federal government.

“This is the reason I got into this race,” Bennett said. “I think it’s unconscionable, the amount of debt we are shackling our children and our grandchildren with.”

Bennett said the country could face painful consequences, such as hyper-inflation.

“Critical decisions must be made now, and they’re not being made now,” he said. “For me, everything is on the table (for possible cuts). This is too big a crisis to carve out sacred cows.”

The other candidates said they also are motivated by the debt, and each supported a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“For the first time in the history of the United States, the potential exists to pass on a country to our children that is worse off than when we got it,” said Schneider. “The politicians in Washington cannot help themselves from spending more and more money.”

Summers said the federal government must learn from Maine, where the Republican majority has cut taxes and cut spending. “Those are things we need to take to Washington,” he said.

“There’s absolutely no reason we should not have a balanced budget amendment at the federal level. … The problem is a spending problem. You cannot spend what you don’t have.”

Damboise said the government has to get back to its core constitutional roots and “live within our means.”

“Stop the spending, eliminate the debt, balance the budget. Plain and simple,” he said.

D’Amboise set himself apart with more specifics: He would eliminate the Federal Reserve, the Internal Revenue Service and the Transportation Security Administration.

The four men generally agreed on most of the topics. For example, each said the country needs to boost domestic energy production but not subsidize alternative sources, such as wind and solar, that are not cost-effective on their own.

Each maintained that his personal background makes him the best choice to be the Republican nominee.

D’Amboise said he is a conservative Christian and the only candidate who wanted to take on Snowe before Feb. 28, when she announced her intention to retire after this year.

“The choice is, do we continue to allow the establishment to run Washington, D.C.?” he said. “I was the one who had the guts to challenge Olympia Snowe.”

Schneider said he has fought waste and corruption as Maine’s attorney general, investigated terrorists for the U.S. Justice Department, parachuted into hostile countries as a Green Beret, and rebuilt his life after losing the use of his legs in a service-related accident.

“I’ve faced difficulties, and every single time I’ve accomplished the mission,” Schneider said.

Summers said he is ideally qualified because of his experience as a business owner and as a commander in the Naval Reserve, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Summers was endorsed before Friday’s event by the Kennebec County delegation to the Maine Senate.

“I think the next U.S. senator has to be someone that not only supports our veterans but understands the issues they face,” he said. “I grew up knowing that what was good for America was good for the world, and I believe we need to take that attitude to Washington, D.C.”

Bennett said he was a reformer as Maine’s Senate president and later turned around a troubled business that employs 50 people and advises large international investors. Along with his financial and business experience, he has deep roots in Oxford County and Maine, he said.

“I’m a Maine native. My family goes back 200 years or more,” Bennett said. “I have a real attachment, not only to the people of Maine but to the land of Maine.”

The GOP candidates will meet again on April 20 in Penobscot County.

Four Democrats are running for their party’s nomination: state Sen. Cynthia Dill, former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, state Rep. Jon Hinck and businessman Benjamin Pollard.

The Democratic candidates are expected to gather at a forum sponsored by the League of Young Voters on Sunday in Portland.

Former Gov. Angus King is one of several independent candidates in the race.

State House Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]