WATERVILLE — Mike Michaud wasn’t at Thursday’s 2nd Congressional District candidates forum, but that didn’t stop challenger Kevin Raye from arguing his points and pushing back against recent poll numbers.

Both candidates were invited to the event hosted by the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce at Thomas College. About 30 people attended the forum, which was billed as an opportunity to delve into the candidates’ positions on matters of importance to the business community. Michaud, however, declined the invitation.

Michaud campaign spokesman Dan Cashman said the five-term Democratic incumbent had been invited to more than a dozen similar events and has agreed to four debates with Raye later this month — more debates than in previous election cycles.

At Thursday’s forum, an audience member asked Raye about Wednesday’s poll numbers that showed the challenger lagging behind Michaud by 20 percentage points.

Raye said he read the latest poll with some amusement. The Pan Atlantic SMS Group surveyed 200 people two weeks ago in the 2nd District, with a margin of error of 7 percentage points. Raye said he’s never seen a poll with such a high margin of error, or one released so many days after it was conducted.

“It was purported to be a snapshot of the race when it was already two weeks old,” Raye said. “We do our own internal polling, and I can tell you I have a great deal of confidence in it. It shows a much closer race than public polls.”

Both campaigns will not make specific numbers from their own polls available.

Earlier in the day, Pan Atlantic SMS Group president Patrick Murphy acknowledged the large margin of error and cast doubt on its accuracy during an interview on conservative radio station WVOM.

“It may be a somewhat closer race than this poll is showing, because you’ve got two very good candidates,” he said on the George Hale and Ric Tyler Show.

At the beginning of the forum, moderator Matthew Clark questioned Raye on five topics: tax reform, health care, energy costs, infrastructure and regulatory reform.

For the most part, Raye’s responses followed party lines, but there were a few surprises. For example, Raye won’t sign a never-raise-taxes pledge that has been widely circulated by Republican activist Grover Norquist. Although he has a record of limiting taxes, Raye said it’s inappropriate to deal in absolutes.

“When you draw lines in the sand before you even get elected, it makes it much more difficult to bring people to the table in good faith, to work through our differences and solve problems,” he said.

Raye is also outspoken in his support of alternative energy — particularly a tidal energy project in his hometown of Eastport — and favors eliminating subsidies for all energy sources, including fossil fuels, except for startup projects.

Waterville will become part of the 1st Congressional District in January, and the city’s voters will vote for candidates in that district Nov. 6. But the location made sense for the forum, according to Christian Savage, program assistant for the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce. The chamber serves 16 communities — half are in the 2nd District, including several that were moved there in the redistricting.

The candidates will face off in four debates this month. On Tuesday the candidates will meet in Bangor for a lunchtime debate hosted by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. Televised debates will follow on Thursday, Oct. 25, and Tuesday, Oct. 30, on WABI in Bangor, MPBN and simulcast on WCSH and WLBZ in Portland and Bangor, respectively.

Later on Thursday, Raye made campaign stops in Madison, Skowhegan and Solon.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

bmccanna@centralmaine.com