INDEPENDENT ANGUS KING, left, Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill participate in a debate for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Monday.

INDEPENDENT ANGUS KING, left, Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill participate in a debate for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Monday.

LEWISTON

The top three candidates in the state’s U.S. Senate race clashed in a debate Monday on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, energy policy, gun control, capital gains taxes and whether the Senate is broken.

Independent former Gov. Angus King also took the Republican Party to task for more than $1 million in negative attack ads. King, who vowed to run a positive campaign, pointed to a man in the audience and said he was hired by the Republican National Committee to follow him around with a video camera.

“I think it’s pretty lousy that we’ve sunk to that level of negativity,” King said.

The debate, sponsored by the Sun Journal newspaper, was the second featuring King, Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill in the race to succeed Republican Olympia Snowe, who cited partisan polarization in her decision not to seek re-election. Independents Steve Woods, Danny Dalton and Andrew Ian Dodge weren’t invited to participate.

King, campaigning on the theme that Congress is broken, told the audience at the Franco American Heritage Center in Lewiston that an independent voice can help bridge the partisan divide. But Summers disagreed with the premise, saying the system isn’t broken but lacks strong leadership.

Dill, who says she’s the candidate for working families, took a jab at both of them, suggesting that the Senate is broken for working families but not for people who are wealthy and well connected.

“I agree that the government in Washington is broken, but I’d submit that it’s broken for most of us but works very well for a small class of people to which my opponents belong,” she said.

Dill and King said they supported Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, with King saying that repealing it “would set us back another 20 years” and suggesting making modifications. Dill said the health care law didn’t go far enough and she’d vote for a single-payer universal health care system.

Summers said he’d toss the law out in its entirety, saying it would add $2 trillion to the national debt. Instead, he proposed allowing people to shop for insurance plans across state lines and making the cost of health care insurance 100 percent deductible on federal tax returns.

On energy policy, King said the answer to the nation’s need for affordable energy lies in pressing for expanded domestic natural gas production, while Dill said it’s not environmentally responsible to open the door to more oil and gas exploration using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves pumping chemical-laden water deep into the ground.

Summers said the nation has an obligation to explore all forms of low-cost energy, including additional drilling for oil and even exploring the possibility of more nuclear power.

Summers also said the federal government should eliminate the capital gains tax, saying the move would put money back into the economy. King said capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as other income, and Dill said the current 15 percent rate isn’t creating economic activity the way proponents said it would.

On gun control, Dill said she recognizes the right to bear arms and to hunt but said large ammo clips should be regulated and a ban on assault weapons should be reinstated. King said regulations should focus on keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people, while Summers said there should be no additional regulation.

But the three candidates agreed on some issues.

None of them had kind words for the federal No Child Left Behind Act education law, and none supported sending U.S. troops into Syria or using U.S. warplanes to launch a pre-emptive strike to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

As for negativity, King said the door was thrown wide open when the Supreme Court said there could be unlimited “soft money’ spent by so-called super PACs, a ruling King described as the worst in his lifetime.

Dill, who agreed with King, acknowledged that she would keep the door open to different ways of reversing the Supreme Court’s ruling beyond a constitutional amendment, including expanding the size of the court beyond nine justices. “We have to be innovative and think outside the box,” she said.


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