FARMINGTON — John Rosenwald was undecided when he came into Wednesday night’s debate between Emily Cain and Troy Jackson, the Democratic hopefuls for Maine’s 2nd congressional district seat.
Afterward, the member of the Franklin County party committee remained that way: “I think it’s going to be a tough one,” he said.
“It’s a question of poise and more sophistication, I think, on her part and a working-class intensity on his part,” said Rosenwald, of Farmington.
Cain and Jackson, state senators from Orono and Allagash respectively, got their first real chances to go after each other on the same stage Wednesday at a rapid-fire debate at the University of Maine at Farmington, organized by college and county Democrats.
And the two took some of those chances, charting their different courses toward the nomination for Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s seat, to be open at year’s end because of his run for governor.
The debate was the second forum of the campaign. The last was about about two weeks ago in Lewiston.
But it was wider-ranging and faster-moving: UMF political science professor James Melcher asked questions on local issues and ones as global as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, giving time for the two candidates to rebut each other.
Cain characterized herself as a legislator willing to work across the aisle with Republicans, while Jackson said there are certain issues he would never compromise on, such as cutting health care or Social Security.
“You have to stand up for the things you believe in, but you have to know when and how to stay at the table to negotiate because when we walk away, working families in Maine get nothing,” Cain said.
But Jackson, a hard-charging Democrat who has been a chief nemesis of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, played on that compromising trope.
Cain and Jackson expressed support for raising taxes on the country’s wealthiest 2 percent, but he hit her for supporting a state budget as a state representative in 2011 that contained a package of tax cuts that Democrats have since derided as being “for the rich.”
Shepherded through under a Republican-led Legislature, the tax changes in the budget cut the top income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent. However, those previously paying a 2 percent income-tax rate went to 0 percent. That, along with a change in the personal exemption amount, eliminated income tax liability for about 70,000 low-income Mainers.
“You can’t say you’re interested in taxing the wealthy when right in here in Maine, you gave tax cuts to the rich,” said Jackson, who voted against the budget.
But Cain said she supported that budget not for the tax cuts, but for the other things it protected that Republicans wanted cut, including health care to thousands of Mainers and certain pension obligations.
“I stayed at the table for that budget because Maine families couldn’t afford to have Democrats walk away,” she said.
The two agreed on many issues, including using diplomatic means to dissuade Russia from taking over parts of Ukraine, leading national dialogue around climate change and boosting subsidies for rural agriculture over large, commercial farming enterprises.
Both said they would consider lowering the cost of the military in order to reallocate some funding to other domestic needs.
Larry Hancock of Poland, who also attended the Lewiston forum, said on many of the issues that mattered to him, the candidates were the same, just with very different styles.
The question he has to decide on, he said, is who would be most effective in Washington.
“After two debates, I’m still working on it myself,” Hancock said.
Michael Shepherd — 370-7652 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @mikeshepherdme