PORTLAND — In the first debate of the election campaign for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, two-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin called his Democratic challenger a radical at least five times, a socialist twice and young three times.

Within minutes of the start of the televised debate, Poliquin, a Republican, strung all of them together to declare that Lewiston state Rep. Jared Golden “is a young radical who embraces a socialist agenda.”

Golden, a 36-year-old who served two combat tours in the Marines, repeatedly declared that the 64-year-old Poliquin was lying.

“The amount of lies coming out of Bruce’s mouth is astounding,” Golden said, insisting that the “absolutely despicable” charges suggest he is “somehow un-American” after he fought for his country in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

After one harsh exchange between the two front-runners, independent Tiffany Bond said, “This is why we’re getting nothing done” in Washington as partisan sniping keeps both parties on the front lines instead of working together to deal with the nation’s problems.

The hour debate, sponsored by News Center Maine, brought together all four contenders in the Nov. 6 election, including Southwest Harbor educator Will Hoar and Bond, a Portland lawyer.

The candidates touched on many issues, from guns to broadband, but most of the drama came from exchanges between Poliquin and Golden, with the incumbent frequently repeating the same points in a bid to drive home his characterization of his challenger.

Hoar said Poliquin and Golden were getting into “character debates” instead of addressing the issues that matter to the hardscrabble, rural district the four contenders are vying to represent in the 435-member U.S. House.

Poliquin insisted that Maine’s economy is doing better because he’s pushed for “less red tape, lower taxes and fairer trade deals.”

But Hoar, Bond and Golden said the 2nd District still needs plenty of help. Golden said unemployment may be down but salaries haven’t gone up and too many are working in low-paying jobs or working multiple positions to get by.

“In a lot of communities, the only option for work is Dunkin’ Donuts,” Bond said.

Hoar said there needs to be more focus on infrastructure improvements and broadband availability.

“Rural America is underserved,” he said, and the federal government need to do more to help people in small town Maine.

Bond said there are things Congress can do, especially getting internet service. She also suggested tourism tied to recreational marijuana.

Poliquin, too, said that a federal push for broadband for rural areas is critical, calling for a program akin to the rural electrification programs begun in the 1930s.

The candidates also discussed guns, with Poliquin touting his A rating from the National Rifle Association while the other three insisted that slight restrictions on access to guns by felons, people on the “No Fly List” and domestic abusers are reasonable limitations.

Poliquin’s 2017 vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act came up often — but not when he was talking. The only mention he made about the ACA was to note that in 2015 he was one of three Republicans to vote against its repeal.

Poliquin, flashing his mother’s Medicare card, said that Golden’s call for Medicare-For-All – beginning with a policy of letting those 55 and older buy into Medicare – is “a radical, risky scheme.”

Golden said “the status quo is unacceptable” and insisted that Mainers deserve more affordable coverage. He said Poliquin let the people of his district down by trying to torpedo the ACA and opposing Medicaid expansion.

Poliquin said Golden “is an extreme radical who would put this economy back in the ditch” if he gets his way.

The state’s Republican Party chairman, Demi Kouzounas, said in a prepared statement that Poliquin proved his competency “time and time again” as he rolled to victory in the debate.

She called Golden “another radical liberal extremist who thinks he can fool the people” into voting for him.

But Golden’s campaign said the Democrat “displayed the demeanor needed to bring 21st century leadership to Congress” while Poliquin relied on “personal insults” and lies.

The “most outrageous” comments, it said, were “Poliquin’s repeated attacks on Jared Golden’s patriotism” despite the fact the Democrat left college to serve in the Marines while Poliquin “chose not to leave Harvard during the Vietnam War.”

“To question Golden’s commitment to country is not only wrong, it is disgusting,” the campaign said in a post-debate news release.

But not everything was negative.

In the final words of the showdown, Poliquin opined that Simones’ Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston is America’s best restaurant.

For a change, nobody argued.

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