The candidates for Maine’s 1st Congressional District seat argued over trade, health care, immigration and other issues Wednesday at the first of three debates leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-North Haven, has served five terms and is facing a challenge from independent Marty Grohman and Republican Mark Holbrook.

She criticized the Trump administration for levying tariffs against China that have led to a reduction of more than 80 percent in live lobster exports to that country. She said the Chinese market, with its 1.4 billion population, can’t be replaced.

“It’s a disaster,” Pingree said at Wednesday’s debate at WMTW-TV studios. “This administration is in a state of chaos, and they don’t know what they’re doing. So many in the lobster industry have spent so much money connecting to this market.”

Pingree said that generally she favors “fair trade” that attempts to tie improved labor and environmental standards in other countries with more lucrative trading agreements.

Holbrook, however, said he supports President Trump’s trade policies, even though they may temporarily hurt markets such as live lobster exports to China.

“I like fair trade,” said Holbrook, a Brunswick psychologist. “If a country is tagging us with 10 percent tariffs, we’ve got to tag them with 10 percent. There’s going to be some short-term pain that comes with this. That hurts, but long term this is going to be best for America.”

Grohman said he favors eliminating the Trump tariffs and creating a “predictable” trade policy, which will help businesses.

“I’m a free trader,” said Grohman, a former state lawmaker fromBiddeford. “We need to open up global marketplaces for Maine companies.”

While there hasn’t been any public polling of the race, Pingree leads in money raised with $680,000, compared to $328,000 for Grohman and $86,000 for Holbrook, according to federal campaign filings due Monday. For Grohman, $200,000 of his campaign’s money came from his own funds.

As an independent, Grohman has touted centrist ideas and attempted to siphon off Republican votes from Holbrook while attracting independents. In 2016, Pingree defeated Holbrook by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin.

A wild card in the race is ranked-choice voting, which is being used for the first time in congressional elections in Maine this fall. In ranked choice, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a more than 50 percent of the vote on the first ballot, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and that candidate’s second-place votes are re-allocated. The process continues until a candidate reaches a clear majority.

During the past two weeks, Grohman has attacked Pingree’s votes on Bath Iron Works, claiming she has not supported the shipyard in key defense votes dating back to 2011.

“They deserve our unqualified support, 100 percent of the time,” Grohman said.

But Pingree said that the attacks by Grohman are “disingenuous” and that she has supported BIW, despite at times voting against the bills because they included spending on other military activities she disagreed with, such as funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I am a serious and relentless advocate for funding of our shipyards,” Pingree said.

Holbrook defended Pingree, saying that Grohman’s accusations are an “unfair criticism.”

“When push comes to shove, she’s there to support the shipyard,” Holbrook said.

Maine Political Report



On health care, Pingree said she supports universal health care plans, such as “Medicare for all,” and has voted to preserve and expand the Affordable Care Act. Grohman said he supports the ACA and wants to keep improving it rather than attempting to pass single-payer programs like “Medicare for all.” Holbrook said he wants to eliminate some portions of the ACA, but would be against a wholesale dismantling of the act.

About 20 million Americans have insurance through the ACA, either through Medicaid expansion or the health insurance marketplace, where enrollees can purchase subsidized insurance.

Grohman and Pingree agreed on immigration, saying that there needs to be a path for legal immigration, in part to help Maine businesses fill jobs as it grapples with a workforce shortage. Grohman and Pingree said refugees seeking legal asylum should be permitted to work in the United States while waiting for their cases to be heard. Holbrook supports the Trump administration’s more restrictive immigration policies.

The remaining debates will be Oct. 22 at WCSH-TV in Portland and Oct. 30 at Bowdoin College, sponsored by Maine Public.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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Twitter: joelawlorph