PRESQUE ISLE — Four Republicans hoping to become Maine’s next U.S. Senator made their pitches to northern Maine voters Thursday.

Former state Sen. Rick Bennett, Scott D’Amboise, Attorney General William Schneider and Secretary of State Charlie Summers talked energy, health care, the federal debt and other topics during the first of nine GOP candidate forums to be held around the state before the June 12 primary. State Sen. Debra Plowman and Maine Treasurer Bruce Poliquin did not participate.

About 75 Aroostook County voters attended the two-hour forum in the Presque Isle Convention Center, while others watched a live broadcast online.

All four candidates criticized Congress and said they want to help put the country back on track by reducing spending, cutting waste, repealing the Affordable Care Act and confirming federal judges who respect the constitution.

“What we have right now is a compliant Congress and a president who is trying to spend us into oblivion,” said Summers. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Summers said all spending should be re-examined, including wasteful military contracts.

Summers said more domestic energy production is needed to reduce fuel prices, create jobs and enhance national security.

And he said federal judges, and Supreme Court justices, should strictly follow the constitution.

“The Constitution, I believe, is divinely inspired … It is not a living document,” Summers said. “It was written to afford all of us the opportunity to succeed not to guarantee us anything.”

Schneider said he would fight waste and fraud in Washington the way his office has stepped up prosecutions for welfare fraud in Maine.

“I would take that exact same attitude to the Senate. I would make sure that fraud, waste and abuse is hunted down and ferreted out at every opportunity,” he said.

Schneider, a U.S. Army veteran, said he is a leader who can bring people together, but that Republicans shouldn’t look to nominate a moderate.

“I think that a good solid conservative is exactly who we need to run for senate for Maine,” he said. “And I think I am that conservative person.”

Schneider said he is guided by the Constitution, and has kept a copy with him 24 hours a day for 20 years. “The constitution at its very heart recognizes that all of the power in the United States rests with the people,” he said.

Bennett, who heads a Maine company that advises global investors, said he decided to get back into politics because he’s concerned about the debt.

“I am part worried about the total lack of leadership that has exhibited itself in the United States Congress and particularly in the United States Senate.”

Bennett said he was able to bring legislators from both parties together when he served in the state Senate. He was senate president when Angus King was governor and said he could defeat King in the fall. “I think this is really on all of our minds,” Bennett said. “Some people have already anointed him… I have tussled over serious budget issues with Angus King. I’ve argued against his policies in the floor of the senate.” D’Amboise reminded the audience he was the only candidate who dared to run when Olympia Snowe was still seeking re-election. The other five candidates entered the race after Snowe’s retirement announcement in February.

He also set himself apart by saying he would abolish the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve, and saying he believes life begins at the moment of conception. “I am a conservative, I am a constitutionalist and I am a Christian,” he said.

He held up his copy of the Constitution, saying he would have opposed the Supreme Court justices nominated by President Barack Obama.

“Our judges — most of them don’t know what’s in this book,” he said.

D’Amboise also said he would be a strong supporter of the right to bear arms.

“If we lose the second amendment, the government’s going to take all the other amendments away from us,” he said. “Our freedoms and our liberties are at stake … Make no mistake they want to grab the guns.”

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