The three candidates running for Maine’s 1st Congressional District on Monday debated the ongoing U.S. role in war-torn Iraq, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and a question that divides Mainers of all political stripes: blueberry or whoopie pie?

In the first of three scheduled debates in the race, incumbent U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree portrayed herself as an experienced legislator on issues important to Maine voters while the Democrat’s two challengers — Republican Isaac Misiuk and independent Richard Murphy — said the dysfunction in Washington is proof of the need for change.

“I’m angry, I’m disappointed and I’m frustrated,” Murphy, a Springvale resident and National Guard veteran running on constitutional issues, said during the 30-minute debate broadcast live on WGME-13 in Portland. The debate was co-sponsored by the Bangor Daily News.

The race for Maine’s 1st District has, to date, been a low-key campaign overshadowed by the intense, big-money battles for governor and the 2nd Congressional District.

Pingree, a three-term incumbent from the more liberal or progressive wing of the Democratic party, had a large fundraising advantage over her two opponents during the last reporting period, and a September poll by the University of New Hampshire/Portland Press Herald showed the incumbent with a 66 percent to 13 percent lead over Misiuk. Murphy received no support among poll respondents. Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.

There were no major flare-ups during Monday’s fast-moving debate at the WGME studio. But the three candidates staked out disparate positions on the issues.


Misiuk and Murphy said they did not support President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act health reform law although they acknowledged that some aspects of the law — such as prohibitions on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions — were positive developments.

Misiuk, a 25-year-old college student who joined the race to give younger generations a stronger voice in Washington, said his own family members have lost access to doctors or seen treatment costs increase. Murphy, a libertarian who rails against “career politicians” in Washington, said he still lacks insurance and could soon face a financial penalty under the bill’s “individual mandate.”

But the two disagreed on congressional Republicans’ repeated efforts to repeal the law. While Murphy called the act “another failed policy” that should be reversed, Misiuk said the time for repeal has passed and Congress should now look for ways to fix the law.

Pingree, who voted for the law but has called for a more sweeping single-payer insurance system, said the law, though flawed, is moving things in the right direction.

“The fact is more people are covered in this country today than ever before, the costs are starting to go down and we have enacted many important parts of it,” said Pingree, who previously served eight years in the Maine Senate and co-owns the Nebo Lodge bed and breakfast on North Haven.

On the issue of Iraq, all of the candidates expressed concerns about the Islamic State militant group’s territorial gains in the country but differed on how the U.S. should respond.


Murphy, who deployed to Iraq while serving with the National Guard, and Pingree said they do not support increased U.S. involvement in Iraq.

“We had boots on the ground before . . . and when we left, they came back,” Murphy said. “If we send boots on the ground again, when we leave, they will come back again.”

Pingree, a frequent critic of U.S. spending on overseas wars, said “we shouldn’t have gone there in the first place” and suggested bringing U.S. combat troops back to Iraq would mire the U.S. in an “endless situation.”

Misiuk, however, said that he has concluded that the only way to defeat the Islamic State is with U.S. ground troops working alongside allied forces, such as the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

“We are faced with a really tough question: Do we do nothing and pray that we don’t have a repeat of September 11th? Or do we stop this evil in its tracks with the allies that we have in the Middle East?” Misiuk said.

Citing environmental concerns, Pingree reiterated her opposition to any effort to reverse the direction of the pipeline connecting South Portland and Montreal in order to allow crude oil from Canada’s tar sands region to flow to Maine. Misiuk and Murphy indicated that they would support the reversal.

In a “lightning round” of questions, Murphy and Misiuk opposed expanding background checks for firearm purchases while Pingree supported an expansion. Likewise, Pingree was the only candidate to support increasing the federal minimum wage above its current level of $7.25 an hour.

Misiuk, meanwhile, was the only opponent of legalizing recreational marijuana use at the federal level. All three candidates agreed that climate change is real and that humans are contributing to the problem.

And on the question of which would the candidates choose – blueberry pie or whoopie pie – if they could only have one? Pingree opted for blueberry while her two opponents went with whoopie pies.

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