AUGUSTA — Politics made strange bedfellows in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District on Thursday, with the Democrat and independent in the race condemning the Republican’s reluctance to debate if all three hopefuls are invited.

After press inquiries on Thursday, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network released emails from Republican Bruce Poliquin’s campaign that said the campaign was unable to commit to a network debate after trying to negotiate for conditions that would make it difficult for independent Blaine Richardson to participate.

That led to a joint press conference at the State House in Augusta featuring Richardson and Democrat Emily Cain that hinted at a possible stalemate with Poliquin: Cain, a state senator from Orono, said she wouldn’t commit to debates that don’t feature all three candidates.

“That should be the expectation for all of the debates,” she said. “That’s what Maine voters deserve.”

Richardson, a retired Navy captain from Belfast, said if he has to, he’ll show up alone.

“It’s really important that Maine voters get to hear all the ideas and potential solutions to the problems we face as a nation,” he said.

All three will be on the Nov. 4 ballot, seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who is running for governor.

On Wednesday, MPBN reported that Poliquin, a former state treasurer from Oakland, wouldn’t debate Richardson because the campaign doesn’t consider the independent to be “a legitimate candidate.”

But in a Thursday statement, the campaign said the MPBN report was inaccurate. Matthew Hutson, Poliquin’s campaign manager, said he wasn’t refusing any debate, but was trying to negotiate terms of the debate with the network, which traditionally invites all candidates who qualify for gubernatorial and congressional ballots to debate.

However, Mal Leary, managing editor of the network’s Capitol Connection project, provided the Kennebec Journal with a July 22 email in which Hutson said “at this time we are unable to commit to the debate” after Leary stuck by the network’s usual criteria.

In an earlier email, Hutson told the network that Richardson “is not a credible candidate, as evidenced by his lack of fundraising and non-active campaign schedule.” Richardson, a retired Navy captain from Belfast only raised $275 in the second quarter of 2014.

On Thursday, Hutson’s statement said the campaign wants debates to include only candidates who gain support from at least 10 percent in two public polls of the race. Richardson wasn’t included in a Portland Press Herald poll of the race in June, but close to 0 percent of respondents said they would vote for a third candidate.

“At no time did I state the campaign would not participate in this debate — or any debate,” Hutson said.

Who’s willing to debate who has been a recent issue of late in Maine, particularly in the gubernatorial race between Michaud, Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler. Michaud’s campaign has said he’ll only attend debates if LePage is there. That has angered Cutler, who is calling for more debates.

Cain and Poliquin may have their own political reasons to, respectively, support and oppose Richardson’s inclusion: While Richardson has little chance of winning the seat, observers have said he could have enough of a following to take votes from the Republican in a race that could be close.

Richardson is a hard-line, libertarian conservative who came from nowhere in 2012 to get 34 percent of votes in the Republican primary in the 2nd District, running on a shoestring budget. He left the party in January and qualified for the ballot in June.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, rejected the argument that the party is worried about Richardson pulling votes away from Poliquin. He said there’s little chance that Richardson will erode Poliquin’s base given low fundraising totals and lack of polling numbers.

In his statement, Hutson called the press conference “a political stunt.” But Cain said she’s consistent on the issue: It would be “just unfair” if all weren’t included, she said.

“It’s been the Maine way,” Cain said. “It’s about the Maine voters and it’s about the issues.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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