PORTLAND — The candidates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat exchanged words for the last time Tuesday, just a week before Election Day.
During their fourth and final debate, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Republican challenger Kevin Raye sounded off on job creation, energy policy, taxes, automatic spending cuts known as sequestration and Michaud’s now-infamous negative TV ad, during a 30-minute forum televised on WCSH and WLBZ.
But it was a question about poverty that perhaps created the starkest contrast between the candidates thus far. Raye and Michaud were asked how they might reduce the poverty rate among Maine’s children and elderly without increasing the federal debt and deficit.
Raye argued that a stronger economy and job market will reduce poverty, not social programs. Good-paying private-sector jobs will allow people to “escape poverty and to escape the cycle of dependence which only goes to further it,” he said.
Co-moderator and political analyst Robert Long pushed back at Raye’s response.
“If you’re a child or a senior citizen, you’re not likely to be the best candidate for a job,” Long said. “How can you help those populations?”
Raye said creating a more favorable economy will allow parents to lift children out of poverty. Raye favors reducing the number of people on social programs, but he’s not categorically opposed to welfare.
“There will always be a need for welfare programs designed to take care of our most vulnerable,” Raye said.
“There will always be a segment of the population that frankly needs it and that I believe we have an obligation to care for,” he said.
Michaud said increased access to health care is a step toward reducing poverty among older populations. Seniors in Maine will save about $12 million in prescription drugs through the Affordable Care Act, he said. Seniors also will have free access to preventative care through health screenings, which will ultimately save money, he said.
The subject of health care led to a wide-ranging discussion.
Raye said the Affordable Care Act will weigh down the American economy by increasing costs to small business and the law creates uncertainty in the market place. While some of the goals in the health care law have merit, the overall political process that created it was flawed.
“It was rushed through with my opponent’s support in a partisan manner,” Raye said. “And many parts of it are completely unworkable.”
Michaud, in an apparent jab, thanked Raye’s mentor, Sen. Olympia Snowe, for her initial support of the act, saying it wouldn’t have happened without her. He added that the act extends the life of Medicare by eight years, saves money and enjoys widespread support throughout the medical community “because it extends health care benefits for a broader population.”
Raye spoke out, saying he needed to “defend the honor of Senator Snowe,” pointing out that Snowe ultimately opposed the health care act.
Later, the topic of Michaud’s attack ad resurfaced — a mainstay discussion in all four debates. In the ad, Raye is criticized for spending $20,000 on a “Republican lounge” in the Senate office. The ad was deemed false by a truth test article in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, and forum moderator and news anchor Pat Callaghan posed a blunt question to Michaud.
“Are you proud of that?” he asked.
Michaud stood behind the ad and Raye accused him of hypocrisy.
“When Congressman Michaud was in Augusta, he presided over a $52 million renovation of the State House … that included $50,000 simply for art,” Raye said. “It certainly smacks of insincerity.”
Michaud, for a second time Tuesday, stood behind his ad.
“If Kevin can’t take the heat, he never should have built the kitchenette,” Michaud quipped.
During closing statements, Michaud characterized himself as a hard worker for Maine — fighting for businesses, farms, veterans and more.
“I did not run for Congress to cave in to special interests in Washington, D.C. I did not run to be on the headlines of the national news. I ran to fight for the state of Maine,” he said.
Raye positioned himself as an energetic newcomer and a bipartisan alternative.
“In Augusta, I brought Democrats and Republicans together to balance the budget, reduce regulations and fight for jobs,” Raye said. “We have only two (congressional) voices in Washington — I want to be one of them. I’ll be a stronger voice for Maine.”
There are six days until the election.
Ben McCanna — 861-9239