BY JOHN RICHARDSON

State House Bureau

Candidates for Maine’s U.S. Senate seat will square off in two separate forums today, one in Augusta and one in Portland.

Republican Charlie Summers will skip both.

“Every group and chamber wants to have a debate or a forum, and that’s great,” said Drew Brandewie, spokesman for the Summers campaign. “With campaign schedules, that’s just not feasible.”

Summers will be back in Maine on Thursday after a fundraiser Wednesday in Washington, D.C., but he has campaign conflicts with both forums, Brandewie said.

Angus King’s campaign issued a news release Wednesday saying Summers is trying to avoid discussions about women’s health and other concerns of voters.

“What is candidate Summers trying to hide by not debating the issues?” said Crystal Canney, King’s spokeswoman, in the release.

At least 18 forums and debates are scheduled in the remaining four weeks before Election Day. Three debates were held in September, and Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill each missed one.

The sponsors range from the senior class at Cape Elizabeth High School to all three Portland television stations.

Summers will miss the Maine Municipal Association’s debate Thursday afternoon in Augusta to attend a news conference in Portland, where he will accept endorsements from the Maine Restaurant Association and the National Federation of Independent Business, Brandewie said.

He will miss an evening forum in Portland sponsored by the Maine Women’s Policy Center, the AARP and other groups because of a different, undisclosed conflict, he said.

Canney said Summers wants to avoid questions about “flip-flopping” on abortion at a forum sponsored by advocates for women. Brandewie said the flip-flopping charge is false.

Summers is pro-choice but has said he opposes federal funding for abortion services. That’s a reference to Planned Parenthood, which has faced congressional efforts to cut off funding because it provides abortion services.

King and Dill are pro-choice and oppose taking federal money away from Planned Parenthood.

Brandewie said Summers will skip more events in the coming weeks, but will attend the major televised debates.

“I think when all is said and done, Charlie will have done 10, 12 or 15 events,” Brandewie said.

Summers is using time to talk directly to voters, he said, including at a series of town hall events between now and Nov. 6.

Dan Demeritt, a Republican consultant who writes periodically for the Maine Sunday Telegram, said it’s clear that Summers is campaigning hard across the state and it makes sense to pick and choose from the multitude of events.

“If it’s a group where you have a chance to potentially convince undecided voters, you have to move heaven and earth to get there,” he said. “There may not be many undecided participants at those forums (Thursday).”

Mike Cuzzi, a Democratic consultant who also writes periodically for the Telegram, said the events are time-consuming.

He said Summers’ campaign also may have decided that the forums, or at least some of them, favor King.

“I think that King has performed very well at these debates and neither Charlie, nor Dill for that matter, have really differentiated themselves,” Cuzzi said. “If Summers continues to pull out, he risks creating a narrative that he’s unable to compete or to successfully face challenging audiences or demographics.”

John Richardson — 791-6324

[email protected]

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