Five televised debates are set this month in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, but it doesn’t look like all three candidates will share a stage.

For months, Democrat Emily Cain and Republican Bruce Poliquin have sparred on the question of whether or not independent conservative Blaine Richardson, the longhsot third candidate in the race, should be invited to debates.

Cain wants Richardson invited to all debates and Poliquin doesn’t. Cain says she won’t share the debate stage if Richardson isn’t invited, and Poliquin says he won’t attend if Richardson is there. Richardson’s support was pegged at 3 percent in a recent Portland Press Herald poll.

Even though the same poll showed that many in the 2nd District don’t know much about them, Cain and Poliquin aren’t committing to debates that don’t match their criteria.

That’s having an impact on organizers with less than a month to go before Election Day. It’s also unique in Maine’s large races this year.

After a week of indecision, Republican Gov. Paul LePage said last week that he would appear in five October debates — starting Wednesday — against Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.


But in the race to replace Michaud in the 2nd District, networks may host just one or two of the candidates. Plans for another debate were shelved after posturing.

When WCSH and WLBZ, NBC affiliates in Portland and Bangor, host their scheduled debate on Oct. 23, it could simply be an interview with Poliquin. Mike Redding, the stations’ news director, said they haven’t invited Richardson because of low polling numbers and his “lack of an active campaign.”

Therefore, Poliquin has confirmed and Cain hasn’t. If Cain doesn’t commit, Redding said, then “Bruce Poliquin will get a heck of a lot of TV time.”

“We’re trying to avoid the politics of it, even though it’s politics,” Redding said. “We’re trying to do what’s best for our viewers and the viewers are the voters.”

After the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s board voted to invite all three candidates, it couldn’t get Poliquin to commit, said John Porter, the chamber’s executive director. So it stopped trying to organize a debate altogether.

“At some point, as the manager, you have to realize you can only do so much,” Porter said.


Poliquin also hasn’t confirmed invitations from organizers of three other debates — the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, WAGM, a CBS affiliate in Presque Isle, and another one hosted by the Bangor Daily News and Portland CBS affiliate WGME.

Those organizers invited all three candidates, but they’re likely to move forward with commitments from only Cain and Richardson, station employees said.

WMTW, a Portland ABC affiliate, hasn’t invited Richardson, citing his low polling numbers. Amy Beveridge, the station’s news director, said it hasn’t decided what it will do if only Poliquin attends.

The fighting over Richardson’s inclusion started in July, when Cain, an Orono state senator, called an Augusta press conference with the independent from Belfast to condemn Poliquin’s reluctance to debate both of them.

Then, she said it would be “just unfair” if Richardson weren’t included, she said. Dan Cashman, a Cain spokesman, said she hadn’t budged that stance by Monday.

“That’s where Emily started from in terms of making decision on debates and that’s where we are now,” he said.


But Republicans have said that Richardson isn’t a legitimate candidate. He raised just $275 in 2014’s second quarter. Matthew Hutson, Poliquin’s campaign manager, said his candidate would welcome “a fair debate” against Cain.

“But when Emily’s trying to put politics into this and collude with Blaine, that’s not a fair debate,” Hutson said.

Of course, political calculations could be at play here: Observers have said Richardson, who is running to the right of Poliquin on many issues, could take votes from the Republican in the race.

The Press Herald poll showed Poliquin ahead of Cain, but it also said they were largely unknown, with 45 percent not knowing enough about Cain to form an opinion on her compared to 43 percent for Poliquin.

Ronald Schmidt, a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine, said while both candidates likely have their political reasons to not commit to debates, it may not help with their recognition by race’s end.

“In my mind, that doesn’t seem to outweigh the broader exposure they would get outside of commercials,” he said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.