The candidates running for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat are trying to represent a poor area with unique economic challenges, including a sputtering manufacturing sector and an aging population.

The 2nd District, now represented by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, covers 80 percent of the state’s area and the northern half of its population. The median household income is $41,500 – $11,000 less than the rest of Maine and less than any other district in New England.

Democrat Emily Cain, an Orono state senator, and Republican Bruce Poliquin, a former state treasurer from Oakland, have sparred largely along party lines on economic issues this election season, with independent candidate Blaine Richardson advocating that government generally play a hands-off role in policy. Pocketbook issues, including Social Security, health care, energy and wages, should go a long way in deciding the outcome of the race Nov. 4.

SOCIAL SECURITY, MEDICARE

The context: The 2nd District is the oldest district in Maine, the state with the nation’s oldest median age. That makes for heavy reliance on federal programs such as Social Security, the national retirement system and Medicare, the health care program for seniors.

However, the programs are marching toward insolvency: The main part of Medicare is projected to run out of money in 2030, while Social Security is expected to become insolvent shortly after that. The two parties differ largely on ways to fix that.

Cain supports boosting the amount of money flowing into the Social Security system by increasing the minimum wage and increasing the maximum amount of income – now $117,000 – on which federal payroll taxes must be paid. On Medicare, she would support allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices with companies to scale costs back.

“Every senior in Maine deserves to retire with dignity,” she said at a recent debate.

Poliquin doesn’t support changes for current retirees, but he would raise the retirement age for future beneficiaries to account for longer life spans, as well as means-testing Social Security so richer recipients receive less of a benefit.

He often invokes his 24-year-old son, Sam, in saying there must be a “frank conversation” with younger Americans about the programs.

“If he wants to have Social Security and Medicare down the road, we need to reform that program to save it,” he said.

Richardson says the programs must be saved for current retirees, but younger Americans should look to private savings and investment accounts and shouldn’t trust the federal government to manage the system effectively.

“They’ve clearly demonstrated they couldn’t handle the program we all invested in,” he said. “It’s a serious problem and we need to address it immediately.”

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

The context: The 2nd District has long had higher rates of people without health insurance than the rest of Maine. According to Census estimates for 2013, 85,000 people were uninsured there, about 8,000 more than in the 1st District.

Cain is a supporter of the health care law and, like many in her party, would support a single-payer, universal health care system.

“We have great models, whether it’s in veterans’ benefits in health care or in Medicare itself,” she said at a debate during the primary season. “We have models that show us when more people are covered, costs are lower.”

Poliquin has called for repeal of the health care law, but he has said he supports parts of it.

He supports a provision banning insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, but opposes parts that he says “kill jobs,” including an impending mandate that will require businesses with 50 or more people to provide health care to employees.

“So you have many small businesses … who are very, very hesitant to hire that 50th worker,” he said.

Richardson would fully repeal the law, calling it “far from affordable.”

ENERGY

The context: Maine has the lowest energy costs in New England, but among the highest in the country. That has inhibited manufacturing in the 2nd District: Soaring natural gas prices were one factor blamed for the upcoming closure of the Verso paper mill in Bucksport.

Cain opposes Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands of western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, and supports a carbon tax, which Poliquin has criticized her for. She has supported natural gas expansion, but she says it should be seen as a transition to renewable sources like tidal, wind and solar power, calling them “renewable sources right here in our state that will create jobs.”

Poliquin supports Keystone XL and has said he favors increasing the production of all forms of domestic energy, including oil and natural gas.

“We need to make sure that we fully develop, in this country, all sources of energy, because when you increase production, you drive down the price,” he said. “If we’re able to do that, our mills will be more competitive.”

Richardson supports Keystone XL, saying the federal government is “in the way” of lowering costs for consumers. He has touted natural gas as a way to help save manufacturing jobs in the 2nd District.

MINIMUM WAGE

The context: The federal minimum wage is $7.25, while Maine’s is $7.50. According to a report from Oxfam, an anti-poverty group, 23 percent of workers in the 2nd District – the highest share of any congressional district in New England – would benefit from a federal minimum wage hike to $10.10, which President Barack Obama wants.

Cain has said she supports an increase as a matter of fairness and to help save Social Security, but she said before taking the vote, she would talk with business owners across the district to make sure the effect of an increase is understood.

“No one who works full time should live in poverty,” she said.

Poliquin, in debates, has somewhat dodged questions on the topic. He hasn’t ruled out supporting a compromise effort to raise the federal minimum wage. But if past is prologue, he’ll be a hard sell: As state treasurer in 2012, he wrote an op-ed in the Sun Journal newspaper to oppose a state minimum wage increase to $9 an hour.

“I will not support anything in Congress that kills jobs and hurts our economy,” he has said. “We need to make sure we grow the economy so there are more jobs and better-paying jobs and career jobs, not just minimum-wage jobs.”

Richardson opposes a federal minimum wage increase, saying the U.S. must “get the heavy thumb of the government off the backs” of businesses. Deregulation would spur more jobs and higher wages, he has said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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