BANGOR — The gloves came off in the 2nd Congressional District Thursday night.

After a tepid debate earlier this week, Republican challenger Kevin Raye came out swinging against Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in Thursday’s encounter, at one point calling the incumbent confused and a claim preposterous.

The jabs came early and often.

During an opening discussion on partisan politics, Raye faulted Michaud for voting the Democratic party line “93 percent of the time.”

In turn, Michaud criticized Raye for using a Republican majority in Augusta to “ram bills through” the Legislature, including a repeal of same-day voter registration, which was eventually overturned during a voter referendum last year.

Michaud also reiterated claims that Raye created a “Republican lounge” in the state Senate — the subject of a TV ad that a “truth test” in the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Portland Press Herald has called false.

Raye confronted Michaud’s ad during a rebuttal.

“Frankly, I think you should be ashamed of your ad,” Raye said. “I am asking you tonight to take it down, because the Portland Press Herald — hardly a bastion of Republicanism — has said it’s a whopper and perhaps the most misleading ad of the season.”

The debate was televised live from a studio at WABI TV and moderated by news anchor Catherine Pegram. Nearly all questions originated from viewers, either by phone, Facebook or Twitter. Topics included the Bush-era tax cuts, the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage, state infrastructure, same-day voter registration and more.

When a viewer asked whether the candidates support health insurance reform passed by the Legislature, Michaud said no.

“That was one of the bills that was rammed through the process,” he said. “The people who benefit the most from it are in southern Maine. If you look at the huge increases for rural Maine, it’s devastating.”

Raye said reform was necessary because the system in Maine was broken and Dirigo Health had failed. Raye added that Michaud’s assessment didn’t take into account recent tweaks to the law.

“The suggestion somehow that I would not be concerned with rural Maine — I’m sorry — that is preposterous,” Raye said. “I am a product of rural Maine.”

Later, Michaud cited Raye’s support for the repeal of same-day voter registration as evidence that his opponent is partisan, and suggested that the effort was part of a coordinated national attack on voter rights by Republicans. Raye took offense.

“I think the congressman is confused,” Raye said. “Maine is one of very few states that has ever had that law.

“The suggestion that this was for voter suppression — I’m sorry — that is absolutely false.”

The subject of the Bush-era tax cuts also revealed differences between the candidates.

Michaud said he opposes extending tax cuts to earners in the top 2 percent, saying the system is unfair to middle-class families. Raye said the economy is too fragile to raise taxes, but added that he’s not taking an arbitrary stand on the issue.

“The thought that we are going to somehow encourage a better economy by raising taxes flies in the face of history,” Raye said. “I will say this: I have declined to take (Grover Norquist’s) no-tax pledge.”

Michaud accused the challenger of having it both ways.

“That sounds like the Norquist pledge without saying it’s a pledge,” he quipped.

The candidates were also asked how they would help small businesses in the 2nd District. Michaud said the complaint he hears from business owners is that capital loans are difficult to secure in this economy. Raye countered that Michaud doesn’t have a wide breadth of understanding on small business.

“Mike, I think you need to talk to more small businesses,” Raye said. “There are a lot more issues than that one.”

The candidates had different opinions on same-sex marriage, but each offered caveats.

Michaud said he will vote for the right of same-sex couples to marry in Maine “as long as religious freedoms are protected.”

Raye said he will not vote to redefine marriage, but he is in favor of civil unions, which will “sort of validate and respect committed same-sex relationships.”

Raye delivered his most cutting blow during a discussion of reimbursement rates by Medicare to Maine health providers. Michaud said the state has been lagging behind the rest of the country for more than a decade, and it’s something he intends to fix.

“It sounds like you’ve just arrived in Congress, but you’ve been there for 10 years,” Raye said. “I think (Washington) could use a fresh perspective and a stronger voice.”

There are two more scheduled debates between Michaud and Raye. On Thursday the candidates will appear on MPBN television and radio stations. On Tuesday, Oct. 30, they will meet again during a simulcast on TV stations WCSH and WLBZ.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

bmccanna@centralmaine.com