BANGOR — Both campaigns are declaring victory after the first of four scheduled debates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud squared off against Republican challenger Kevin Raye during a lunchtime debate Tuesday in a hotel conference room. The candidates addressed a row of television cameras and a crowd of more than 50 people — many of whom were affiliated with the campaigns — in a debate that was characterized by frequent agreement rather than strife.

The only notable sparring took place late in the one-hour debate, when the veteran politicians squabbled over who better embodies a bipartisan spirit.

Michaud, the five-term incumbent, and state Senate president Raye would both consider closing some U.S. military bases in foreign countries to reduce spending; they both favor an energy policy that would limit dependence on foreign oil and embrace emerging green technologies alongside exploration of nonrenewable domestic energy sources; and both agree that the so-called death tax, particularly with regard to family farms, deserves close scrutiny.

The most apparent difference was on display when discussing jobs and the economy. Michaud touted his efforts to bolster Maine manufacturing through tariffs on international imports, while Raye reiterated his endorsement by the National Federation of Independent Business and his 100 percent rating by the group.

Raye said his experience as a small-business owner gives him insight into Maine’s most numerous job sector.

“The pillow I put my head on at night is mortgaged through my business,” he said.

Michaud, who acknowledged a zero rating from the federation, countered that the group is partisan, and he prefers to vote with Maine’s interests in mind rather than cave to a group that “will threaten members of Congress if they don’t vote a certain way.” He said the federation had faulted him for siding with the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the coal industry, which helps limit mercury in water bodies and could improve state fisheries.

“My votes are always focused on what’s best for Maine, not what’s best for a national organization,” Michaud said.

Raye said Michaud’s criticism of the federation is unwarranted.

“The NFIB is not simply a national organization. The NFIB has 3,500 members across this state. If you walk down the main street on any town in this state, you’re going to see NFIB stickers on the front doors of those businesses.”

Raye cited a different issue that the federation used to score lawmakers. Last year, Congress repealed a rule that would have required small-business owners to file a 1099 tax form every time they paid $600 or more to a vendor.

“That was repealed overwhelmingly in the United States Congress, but not with the vote of our congressman,” Raye said. “He was one of the few members of congress who voted to keep that in place.”

Again, Michaud argued his vote reflected the needs of the state, saying the repeal would cut revenues for Maine’s Medicaid. “And that’s wrong,” he said.

Both candidates contend hyper-partisanship in Washington has led to legislative inaction, and both highlighted their efforts to reach across the aisle.

Raye said he joins with Democratic Senate leaders for dinner every Thursday in an effort to maintain less contentious relationships. Michaud recalled his tenure as state Senate president when the legislative body was split with 17 Democrats, 17 Republicans and one independent senator.

“We sat down every day in the president’s office,” he said. “It made a big difference.”

The question of which candidate is most bipartisan sparked the only moment of raised voices. At the 59-minute mark in the one-hour debate, Michaud accused Raye’s Senate of using its majority status to cram partisan laws through the Legislature, including a bill to limit voter registration, which was overturned by voters in a referendum last November.

“I’m shocked to hear that false accusation, although it’s not the first one this week,” Raye said, in an apparent jab at Michaud’s negative television advertising.

Carmel resident Matthew Pearlman, a registered Democrat, said after the debate that he plans to vote for Michaud, but found the level of discourse encouraging and appreciated Raye’s moderate views.

“They both gave strong performances,” said Pearlman, 47.

Unenrolled voter Mike Jellison, 60, of Hampden, said he was undecided but is leaning toward Michaud. He praised both candidates for their civility.

The candidates will face off in three televised debates this month — one later this week. On Thursday Raye and Michaud will appear on WABI in Bangor. Then on Thursday, Oct. 25, and Tuesday, Oct. 30, candidates will meet again on MPBN television and radio stations, and a simulcast on WCSH and WLBZ in Portland and Bangor, respectively.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239
bmccanna@centralmaine.com