PORTLAND — The four Democrats running for U.S. Senate debated Social Security cuts and criticized anti-terror policies during a live televised forum Tuesday, one week before voters go to the polls in the statewide primary.

Portland businessman Benjamin Pollard set himself apart during the 45-minute debate on WGME-13, saying he opposes deep cuts in military spending but supports cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Pollard said he supports means testing for Social Security benefits, for example. Also, he said, “we need to have limits on Medicare spending, especially on the end of life (care).”

Maine Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, and Maine Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, defended the social programs and instead said they would look to taxation reforms and cuts in military spending as ways to balance the federal budget.

“We have to get on top of spending across the board,” Hinck said, but added, “I would not sit by and see the safety net for our seniors eroded to a great degree.”

Dunlap said Congress needs to look at tax reforms and ending subsidies for oil companies and agribusiness before penalizing seniors. He said he would reduce military spending, but wants to make sure veterans’ long-term benefits are protected.

Dill called for fair tax policies that require the wealthy to pay their fair share, and cuts in military spending such as for weapons systems.

“When it comes to Medicaid and Medicare, those are programs that need to be strengthened,” she said.

All four candidates said they oppose unlimited detention of terror suspects, including by the Obama administration.

“Either you are going to charge people with crimes on the basis of law or you are not,” Dunlap said. “Just because you are in the same party doesn’t mean you work for the president. The role of the Senate is to provide oversight.”

“Unlimited detention of people without trial, without even the presentation of evidence … is simply wrong. It’s not an American value,” Hinck said.

Dill said Congress authorized detentions with too little public debate. “I believe we have to make choices and cast votes based on constitutional liberties and civil rights. … There’s been a total lessening of liberties” since the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks, Dill said.

Pollard said he believes Obama adopted tough anti-terror policies for political reasons. “I also disagree with the drone attacks and assassination campaigns,” he said.

The candidates were friendly toward each other, aiming criticism instead at Republicans and former Gov. Angus King, who is running as an independent.

Dill used a question about leadership to take a jab at King, who lectures at Bowdoin College. “I just think it’s interesting the independent in this race actually teaches leadership from the ivory tower and some of us lead.”

Democratic voters will go to the polls next Tuesday to nominate one of the four as the party’s candidate for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

The debate was moderated by WGME anchor Gregg Lagerquist, with Steve Mistler of The Portland Press Herald also questioning the candidates.

A similar debate for the six Republican candidates is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday. The debates are sponsored by WGME-13, WGAN radio and MaineToday Media, publisher of The Portland Press Herald.


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