Democratic 2nd Congressional District incumbent Mike Michaud will square off against Republican challenger Kevin Raye in four debates this month.
The debates will be the first between the candidates, and the slate was announced Monday, just 35 days before Election Day.
Observers say the debates, which begin Oct. 16, offer an opportunity for the challenger to shine. Raye has trailed Michaud by double digits in four polls since April, but he might have an advantage over the five-term incumbent when the lights go up and the cameras start rolling.
“When we see television or radio interviews with Kevin, he’s very smooth and very well-spoken,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine. “He seems to be very knowledgeable about a whole host of issues. I think he would perform well.
“On the other hand, there’s no reason to assume that Mike Michaud wouldn’t perform well. He’s been on this stage for a number of years. I’d be interested to see that.”
Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, said Raye is a more “impressive speaker than Michaud in terms of style.”
“No one’s going to confuse Mike Michaud with a great, stirring speaker like Barack Obama or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan,” he said.
Nonetheless, Raye doesn’t necessarily have a lock on the debates.
“Neither of them is a Hollywood casting-type person, but I think they’re both very genuine people, and I think they both come off as 2nd District folks,” he said. “If anything, Michaud’s got the whole everyman persona — ‘I went from the mill to the Hill.’ But in terms of looking more polished, I think Raye looks more polished than Michaud.”
Raye campaign manager Robert Caverly said the challenger is raring to go, but added that four debates isn’t enough.
In a press release Monday, the Raye campaign singled out Michaud’s refusal to participate in an Oct. 17 debate on WAGM TV, the only local TV station for Aroostook County.
“At the Democrats’ state convention in June, Congressman Michaud boldly proclaimed that he was proud of his record and would ‘defend it at any time, anywhere and anyplace,’ but we now know that was just an empty statement he had no intention of honoring — unless he meant to add ‘except Aroostook County,’” Caverly said in the release. “It is shocking that the congressman does not feel a discussion of Aroostook issues is a worthwhile use of his time.”
The candidates have been invited to nine events total, but Michaud is drawing the line, said his campaign spokesman, Dan Cashman.
“We’ve committed to four, and that’s more than we’d done in the last two election cycles,” Cashman said. “Four debates is a lot of debates. Mike Michaud has the responsibility of being a congressman as well as a candidate, so he’s had to spend time in Washington and has had limited time here (to campaign).”
On Oct. 16, the candidates will meet in Bangor for a lunchtime debate hosted by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. Televised debates will follow on Oct. 18, Oct. 25, and Oct. 30, on WABI TV in Bangor, MPBN and a simulcast on WCSH and WLBZ in Portland and Bangor.
Cashman said the three stations will provide coverage across the district, and will have ongoing access to the debates through rebroadcasts and Web videos.
Cashman said the debates are an opportunity for voters to catch up on Michaud’s accomplishments in Washington.
“He’s done a lot for the 2nd District and the rest of the state, from the work that he’s done for the New Balance facilities and working with manufacturers across the state,” he said.
Raye, who is running on the strength of an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business, hopes to draw Michaud out on the zero rating the incumbent received from the same group, Caverly said.
“Voters across the district have a right to hear (Michaud) explain why he couldn’t find one vote the past two years where he could stand with Maine’s struggling small businesses,” he said.
Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Ben McCanna can be contacted at 861-9239, or: