PORTLAND – Trailing in the polls with two days left before Election Day, Libby Mitchell and Eliot Cutler attacked each other and front-runner Paul LePage on Saturday in the final and most heated debate of the Maine gubernatorial campaign.

Cutler accused LePage of lying when he distributed a flier that said Cutler was a lobbyist in China.

Mitchell said she is insulted by Cutler’s accusation that she stands for the status quo. She criticized LePage for the wages earned by employees at Marden’s, where LePage is general manager.

“Marden’s and Walmart should start paying living wages so we don’t have to start subsidizing their employees,” she said, drawing applause from what appeared to be a mostly Democratic crowd at the Irish Heritage Center in Portland.

LePage, who has been the front-runner for the entire race, didn’t respond to Mitchell and stuck to his main theme: His experience as mayor of Waterville will allow him to cut the size and scope of government and deliver services more efficiently.

This was the final of 33 debates during the general election campaign. It was also the second of two Great Debates, sponsored by MaineToday Media and its media partners WGME-TV and WGAN radio. All five gubernatorial candidates participated.

The harsh words came quickly. Cutler held up a flier printed by the LePage campaign that said Cutler was a lobbyist in China.

“That’s a lie,” Cutler said.

LePage replied that Cutler, a lawyer, has been a registered federal lobbyist and has worked for Chinese companies.

Cutler said his lobbying work has been confined to government jurisdictions in the United States. In China, he said, he helped American companies sell products in that country and helped Chinese companies invest overseas.

“I did no lobbying for anyone,” he said.

At one point during the discussion about campaign ads, Mitchell apologized to Cutler for Maine Democratic Party mailers accusing the Cape Elizabeth independent of helping corporations export jobs to China.

One mailing contained a picture of a fortune cookie with a message that tells voters Cutler would send their jobs to China. The other shows a made-up help wanted ad written in Asian characters, telling voters that if Cutler wins, “Mainers might as well learn Chinese.”

Mitchell has previously pointed out that her campaign does not control these ads. The party operates independently from her campaign and by law is prohibited from coordinating with her.

The Maine Democratic Party in recent days has been criticized for the ads, and some of the sharpest criticism has come from Democrats, including a member of the Democratic National Committee, four state legislators and the former executive director of the Maine Democratic Party.

“I am proud of being a clean election candidate,” Mitchell said. “I also gave up something. I have no control of what other people advocate or do on my behalf. I apologize for the kind of mailings about Mr. Cutler here.”

But she then complained that Cutler has been accusing her of representing the status quo.

“I fought for change my entire life,” she said. “I am not the status quo.”

The other two independent candidates, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, have been trailing far behind in the polls. They both stayed away from the skirmish.

Moody said he would reform welfare so recipients see it as a “lifeline not a lifestyle.”

Scott spoke about the need to foster local agriculture.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]