Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport, left, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, listens to Dick Grandmaison during a roundtable discussion on prescription drug prices at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday. Others, from left, are Diane Grandmaison, Diane Poirier and Roland Poirier. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon’s U.S. Senate campaign has been low-key so far, except for its online fundraising efforts.

But Thursday, the Freeport Democrat did some more conventional campaigning in her quest to unseat four-term Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

Gideon spent the morning at The Gendron Franco Center on Cedar Street, then met briefly with protesters in front of Collins’ Lisbon Street office. Later, she met at the Lewiston Public Library with a dozen seniors to talk about prescription drug prices.

When she finished an hourlong session there – after booting out a tracker who hoped to record her comments for one of her opponents – she headed to Bates College to talk to young Democrats.

It was, in short, a comfortable excursion into friendly territory in a predominantly Democratic city.

Gideon, who has substantial backing from national groups, faces a potential four-way primary in June, when she hopes to win support from grass-roots Democrats as she faces activist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, attorney Bre Kidman of Saco and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jonathan Treacy of Oxford.

The winner will get the chance to take on Collins in the November 2020 general election. There may be other contenders on the ballot as well, with independent Danielle VanHelsing of Sangerville already in the race and Lisa Savage of Solon weighing a possible run with the Maine Green Independent Party.

With two reporters watching, Gideon called the rising cost of prescription drugs “an incredibly important subject” and asked her guests to tell her their experiences.

She also told them she’d like to “brainstorm a little bit” about “how to make significant change” to lessen the expense for seniors who sometimes struggle to pay for the medicine they need.

Diane Grandmaison of Lewiston told Gideon that she sees people cutting pills in half to stretch out the time between refills or taking doses every two days that are meant for daily use.

“We just need basic medication to live,” said the retired grandmother, who is active in city Democratic politics.

Gideon said legislators “have to stand up and say ‘no, this not acceptable’ ” when pharmaceutical companies and middlemen charge prices many can’t pay.

“These drugs do not have to be as expensive as they are,” she said, a position echoed by many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Collins.

Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport listens to seniors discuss prescription drug prices at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday. From left are Ronnie Paradis, Kevin Simpson, Gideon, Bill Coffin and Dick Grandmaison. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Gideon touted this year’s success by Democrats in Augusta in enacting such measures as creating a prescription drug affordability board to give Mainers a say in drug pricing, and allowing for importation of less expensive drugs from Canada.

State Rep. Margaret Craven, a Lewiston Democrat, said she’s heard from many Mainers who can’t afford prescription drugs.

Sometimes, she said, legislators can only listen helplessly to people “who, probably, are just going to die” because they haven’t got the money for medications.

Gideon said the crucial question is, “Why are costs the way they are?”

She said the federal government ought to allow importation of less expensive drugs without requiring states to obtain waivers. It should also give Medicare the right to negotiate prices with drugmakers the way the Veterans Administration does, she said.

Gideon also said the price of prescriptions ought to be capped for those on Medicare.

She also urged passage of measures to make generic alternatives less expensive, an issue that Collins has championed as well.

“These are the things I would be trying to do,” Gideon said.

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