The arguments and the talking points were familiar Monday in the second live televised debate among the three candidates running for Maine governor. The presentation, however, was much different.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler hit an array of topics – and verbally pummeled each other – during the occasionally uninhibited debate at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall. The event took place in front of a crowd of about 400.

The debate, co-hosted by WGME-TV and the Bangor Daily News, was the first to allow the candidates’ supporters in the crowd. The result was an hour-long forum in which audience reactions were as much a part of the contest as the participants.

Michaud continued to assail LePage for his “divisive” governing style, while defending himself against accusations that he had accomplished little during his long legislative and congressional career.

“I don’t need credit,” he said after LePage attacked him for not leading on legislation in Congress. “I don’t need to make headlines to get things done.”

LePage vigorously defended his record. The governor grew frustrated at times and even engaged with Cutler, whose candidacy is important to the governor’s re-election hopes. At one point, he criticized Cutler for running for governor for the “past five years.”

He described both of his challengers as liberals, but Cutler, he said, was at least “honest.”

Cutler, who finished second to LePage in 2010, attempted to strike a balance between humility and criticism of his rivals. As LePage and Michaud engaged in feisty exchanges, the independent tried to connect with an electorate weary of the bickering.

“Maine people are tired of 11 years of partisan warfare,” said Cutler, adding that both candidates were beholden to special interests and their political parties.

The buzz started before the debate.

The race has been a dead heat for most of the past six months, with Michaud slightly ahead of LePage in most polls, but within the polls’ statistical margin of error. Cutler has been a distant third.

Meanwhile, outside groups trying to influence the contest have spent a combined $8.4 million, shattering the 2010 record of $4 million, according to the latest finance reports posted by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

With two weeks remaining before the Nov. 4 election, the stakes could not have been higher for all three candidates.

Cutler, who has spent nearly a year calling for speaking contests, took the stage as speculation swirled about his campaign’s lack of spending on television ads, and with that, his viability as a contender. Also, the independent had publicly scolded himself for a comment he made to Michaud during the first televised forum Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center.

On Monday, Cutler spoke in a low, forceful tone largely devoid of the aggressiveness he displayed last week. He pivoted from his critics’ claim that he sometimes comes across as aloof.

“I don’t have all the answers, no one does,” Cutler said. “As Albert Einstein said, we can’t solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”

LePage, meanwhile, entered having performed passionately during the first three forums, at times self-deprecating and often humorous. He began the forum less animated, but he was visibly irritated at several points.

At one point he claimed that Michaud had dragged first lady Ann LePage into the contest when the Democrat criticized the governor for doing little to help veterans.

“Helping veterans is more than holding ice cream socials at the Blaine House,” Michaud said.

Ann LePage has taken the lead on veterans issues for the administration.

“I’m quite upset that you’ve taken her down,” the governor said.

Michaud clarified that his remarks were directed at the governor, not his wife.

Michaud’s previous performances reflected the cautious nature of his campaign. The Democratic nominee had stayed close to his talking points, acknowledging from the get-go that he wasn’t the best orator.

The Democrat was looser Monday, trading jabs with LePage while staying on message. At one point, he took direct aim at the governor’s frequent claim that he’s not a politician.

“Governor, you say you’re not a politician. You’re one of the best politicians that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You know the issues that divide Maine voters – immigration and welfare. Governor, what you’re not, is you’re not a leader. You don’t know how to bring people to together.”

Cutler tried to put himself above his opponents, casting them as opposite extremes to the same problem: partisanship. He said Michaud’s economic and education plans came with a hefty price that the Democrat wasn’t sharing with voters.

Cutler’s tax proposal has come under fire from Democrats because it includes raising sales taxes or eliminating some exemptions. The independent has said that the plan will provide property tax relief while funding education initiatives.

“I’ve treated voters like adults and said here’s what we’re going to do, here’s a couple of options,” Cutler said. “I think that you owe it to people to tell them whether it’s in year one, year two or year three or year four, which of your taxes you’re going to raise.”

LePage also criticized Michaud’s Maine Made Plan.

“This Maine Made Plan you have sounds like a recipe for blueberry cobbler because you have no details behind it,” the governor said.

Jobs and the economy were front and center throughout much of the debate.

Cutler said the party candidates offered polarizing plans.

“Here’s a guy who wants to cut everything (LePage), and here’s a guy who wants to cut nothing (Michaud),” he said.

Michaud discussed his long legislative career to reinforce his message that he could bring bipartisan solutions to Augusta. LePage didn’t buy it and focused on the Democrat’s low-key career. When Michaud discussed a clear-cutting compromise he helped broker in the Legislature, LePage responded, “Congressman, that was 30 years ago, what have you done since then?”

The wide-ranging exchanges cut short some scheduled portions of the debate, including a lightning round.

The candidates will have a chance to do it again Tuesday when they participate in a final live televised debate, hosted by WMTW-TV in Auburn.


Facebook comments