Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democratic challenger Emily Cain sparred over their records on tax issues, personal backgrounds and honesty during the first of three scheduled debates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race.

The debate hosted by Maine Public Radio on Monday focused on economic issues, including the development of a new national monument in the Katahdin area and paper mill closures, the Affordable Care Act and outside spending in the race, which already has topped $2 million this election cycle. The debate was broadcast Tuesday night.

The candidacy of Donald Trump also came up, with Poliquin continuing to refuse to say whether he will be supporting the Republican presidential nominee, who has come under fire for his comments on women, minorities and immigrants. Cain, who supports Clinton, said it is a “fundamental question about the direction of our country.”

Poliquin also refused to answer when Rooks asked him whether his constituents have expressed interest in whom he supports for president, instead launching into a discussion of a proposal to end live lobster imports into the European Union.

A recent poll by the Maine Sunday Telegram showed a majority of voters saying it makes little difference whether Poliquin endorses Trump in a race that is a rematch of the 2014 contest that Poliquin won by 5 percentage points.

The debates were scheduled only recently because Poliqin’s campaign originally had turned away invitations from other media outlets. WAGM-TV in Presque Isle will air a live debate at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the candidates will meet again Oct. 26 in a debate hosted by NBC affiliates WCSH and WLBZ.

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Both sides issued statements afterward saying it was clear they had won the debate, which finished with a question from moderator Jennifer Rooks. She asked each candidate to identify something they liked about the other, and it produced only lukewarm responses. Cain called Poliquin a “good dad,” but said she found his personal attacks on her family’s background disrespectful. He said he admired her political ambition but simultaneously labeled her a “career politician.”

Tuesday’s debate started with a discussion of the state’s opioid crisis, with both candidates agreeing on a need for more treatment and funding, though Poliquin also said that more needs to be done to secure the country’s borders and address heroin “coming over the Mexican border.”

The discussion grew more heated as Rooks asked the two about several costly and high-profile ads that have run this election cycle, leading to a discussion of each candidate’s stance on tax issues, both personal and government-related.

For his part, Poliquin attacked Cain for supporting a carbon tax, something Republicans highlighted in 2014, but hasn’t been a major issue this election cycle, and criticized her for remarks made in 2011 that she “hated” reductions in state taxes that were approved as part of a biennial budget. Republicans have criticized Cain for taking credit for the tax cuts during the campaign, though she says she always supported a bipartisan budget with lower taxes as long as they were aimed at helping working families.

“She campaigned and worked as hard as she could against those tax cuts,” Poliquin said. “I was state treasurer at the time, and once they were passed she said, ‘I hate those,’ yet those income tax cuts relieved thousands of the poorest among us.”

Poliquin refused to answer questions directly that were posed to him by Rooks regarding his own record on taxes and whether he ever put any personal property into the state’s Tree Growth Tax Program that allowed him to lower his personal taxes. Poliquin previously has come under fire for placing 10 acres of his Georgetown estate in the program aimed at preserving forest land and later removing it after he was accused of skimping on tax.

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Rooks also asked the candidates about whether they ever have stood up to party leadership, a question to which Cain responded by citing her work on the 2011 budget, while Poliquin cited resistance he said he has received for work on getting the Department of Defense to comply with a law that would preserve manufacturing jobs.

They also differed in their responses to a question on how best to approach the decline of the state’s paper industry. Cain focused on supporting small businesses, agriculture and the forest products industry with services such as better transportation and broadband access, while Poliquin emphasized a need to lower energy costs and taxes and cut down on regulations.

Poliquin also declined to comment when asked for his thoughts on Maine’s five referendum questions, while Cain said she opposes marijuana legalization, but supports ranked-choice voting, universal background checks and raising the minimum wage. She also took the question as an opportunity to reinforce one of her main talking points of the night, arguing that she is a more honest candidate than Poliquin.

“I’ve been clear with you, straight with you about where I stand, because I think it is important to be truthful, to be honest and direct; and what you’ve heard from the congressman is a lot of double talk on these last five questions,” Cain said.

 


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