AUGUSTA – Democrat Cynthia Dill and independent Angus King agreed during back-to-back candidate forums Thursday that Congress is broken.

But while King blamed gridlock between Democrats and Republicans, Dill argued that the problem is too many “older, very wealthy white men.”

King happens to be a 68-year-old millionaire.

“While I may agree that the system is broken, I don’t think the system is broke for guys like Angus King,” Dill said during a forum Thursday evening on women’s issues. “We need more women.”

It was Dill’s most direct effort yet to use her gender and cast the former governor as being out of touch with working-class Mainers, especially women.

Polls on the race for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat show King well ahead of Dill, including among Democrats and women. Dill is running third behind Republican Charlie Summers.

King deflected her jabs, at one point joking about being older and white, and emphasized his support for access to abortion, family planning and Medicare. And, he argued, he can be an independent bridge between the deadlocked political parties.

“I’m doing this because I think this is a critical time for the country and we’ve got to start thinking about people instead of the politics,” King said.

Earlier Thursday, King and Dill squared off in Augusta at a forum sponsored by the Maine Municipal Association.

The evening event in Portland was sponsored by the Maine Women’s Policy Center and other groups. It was the first forum in the campaign to feature the three lesser-known independent candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot: Danny Dalton of Brunswick, Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell and Steve Woods of Yarmouth.

Republican nominee Charlie Summers pulled out of both events in the past week, and was subjected to universal criticism from the other candidates Thursday.

“It’s shameful Charlie Summers skipped this forum,” Woods said.

“I, just like everybody else here, am appalled that he’s not here,” said Dodge, who left the Republican Party to run as an independent.

Like King, the three other independents blamed the two parties for the dysfunction of Congress.

“What they’ve done is tacitly agree to not address the important issues,” Dalton said.

About 250 people attended the evening event, which included questions about health care and reproductive rights.

King, Dill and Woods said they support access to abortion and family planning funding.

Dodge said the government has no right to restrict abortions or family planning, although he would not support federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Dalton said he is pro-life but respects the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.

King and Dill disagreed about the Healthy Families Act, which would require employers to provide paid medical leave.

Dill said she supports it, while King said he would oppose it because it could cost people their jobs, given the weak economy.

Thursday afternoon in Augusta, Dill and King told about 100 members of the Maine Municipal Association that they oppose unfunded federal mandates on towns and school districts.

And both said they support collecting taxes on Internet sales as a matter of fairness to Maine businesses.

The Internet sales tax has bipartisan support, but King and Dill said Summers’ decision to sign a no-new-taxes pledge means he wouldn’t be able to support the idea.

Summers’ spokesman, Drew Brandewie, said Summers opposes new taxes on Maine consumers.

Summers pulled out of the events because of scheduling conflicts, Brandewie said.

He missed the first debate Thursday to be at a news conference in Portland announcing endorsements by the Maine Restaurant Association and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Summers attended a Maine Lobsterman’s Association meeting in Rockland on Thursday evening, Brandewie said.

Summers will skip some future forums, his spokesman said, to focus more on meeting voters and holding town hall-style forums and other campaign events.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

[email protected]

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