BANGOR — After a mild-mannered first debate and a pugnacious second encounter, the third debate between U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Republican challenger Kevin Raye fell somewhere in between.

The candidates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District met Thursday in front of a live audience at Husson University’s Gracie Theater and their exchange was broadcast live throughout the state on Maine Public Broadcasting Networks’ television and radio stations.

Debate moderator Jennifer Rooks, who serves as host of MPBN’s Maine Watch, began by asking both candidates broad policy questions covering tax reform, job creation, health care, Medicare and energy, followed by four questions from the public. From there, Rooks posed questions that were custom-tailored for each candidate. Then, each candidate posed questions two questions to the other.

Michaud, in an unlikely twist, prefaced his first question to Raye — co-owner of Raye’s Mustard — by declaring his fondness for U.S.-made products.

“What is your favorite mustard?” Michaud asked an amused Raye.

“It’s hard to say,” Raye said. “They’re all like my kids.”

It was a brief moment of irreverence in an hour of serious questions, and serious answers.

Much of the debate covered familiar ground, except when the discussion focused on questions from the public. Rooks asked whether U.S. trade negotiations — particularly regarding the Transpacific Partnership that could affect New Balance factories in Somerset County — should be made public rather than held behind closed doors.

Raye said he served for four years on the Maine Citizen Policy Commission where he studied the impact of international trade agreements on Maine’s economy. 

“One of the things that really struck me during my service on that panel was the degree of secrecy — a shroud of secrecy — that envelops our international trade agreement negotiations,” he said. “It makes it much more difficult to accept the outcome, particularly when we have seen time and time again, U.S. negotiators frankly negotiating away the farm.”

Michaud agreed that there isn’t enough transparency in the process. Michaud said he has helped reign in negotiators by introducing the Trade Act that “sets parameters for what trade deals should look like.” 

Next, Rooks asked the candidates if public employees should be on social security instead of pension plans for their retirement.

Michaud said he would have to take a close look at the numbers before giving a definitive answer, but said public employees have benefited from pension programs. Michaud added that he opposed an effort by President George W. Bush to privatize social security and also opposed Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) voucher system for Medicare.

Raye said adding more workers to the social security system could strengthen social security in the long term, to “ensure that it is here for future generations.”

Rooks asked the candidates whether they would support legalizing undocumented immigrants who are currently employed in the U.S., or if they would support increases in the number of immigrants legalized each year.

Raye said he would oppose any blanket policies that would legalize workers who have “flouted the laws,” but said he is open minded about the possibility of increasing numbers, as long as current U.S. citizens can find meaningful, full-time work.

Michaud said the government should try to speed up the immigration process for workers who are “already in the system,” and children who were born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants, should be granted a “pathway to citizenship.”

The final question from the public asked both candidates to convince viewers that they are not beholden to campaign contributors, whether from individuals or corporations. Neither candidate addressed the question head-on.

Michaud reiterated his blue collar roots as a millworker and said he has always fought for “workers to get ahead,” and added that he wants to pass legislation that would require corporations to disclose their contributions to super PACs. Raye reiterated his background as a small business owner and said his passion lies in “providing jobs and knowing there are thousands of other small bussinesspeople, just like me, across the state.”

The race for the 2nd District is a decade-old rematch. In 2002, Michaud edged Raye by a mere 4 percentage points for an open seat in Washington, but Michaud has handily defeated other Republican challengers since their original contest. Over the last 10 years, Raye has become an influential state legislator and a successful small business owner, which led many to speculate this would be the toughest fight of Michaud’s career.

So far, however, a close match hasn’t materialized. Several polls conducted in September showed Michaud leading by double digits; however, Raye’s campaign contends the race is closer than polls suggest.

There is one more match up scheduled between Michaud and Raye. On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the candidates will appear during a televised debate on stations WCSH and WLBZ.

 

Ben McCanna — 861-9239
bmccanna@centralmaine.com