Candidates for Maine governor, Sam Hunkler, Paul LePage and Janet Mills

Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage will face each other in four debates before the November election.

The campaigns for Mills and LePage released their debate schedules within an hour of each other Thursday. They have each committed to five debate appearances overall, four of which overlap.

They will be joined in at least some of the debates by independent Sam Hunkler, a physician from Beals who also will appear on the ballot in November.

Both Mills and LePage will take part in these debates:

Oct. 4 – Portland Press Herald and Maine Public

Oct. 24 – WGME and the Bangor Daily News


Oct. 27 – News Center Maine and Maine State Chamber of Commerce

Nov. 3 – WABI, WMTW and WAGM

Mills also will speak at a Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce event on Oct. 6.

LePage will appear at a Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce event on Oct. 11.

LePage’s campaign said Thursday it had verbally accepted an invitation from the Portland chamber to participate in a debate this week (Wednesday) but the event was rescheduled after Mills declined. LePage’s campaign was still evaluating the new date for that event, it said.

Debates give voters a chance to see candidates answer questions, challenge their opponents and defend their positions, but they are no longer a given in modern campaigns.


Candidates around the country have become more hesitant to debate political opponents as they focus on other ways, including social media, to get their messages out to supporters. Politicians are debating whether to debate in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina.

Debates can carry risks for front-runners, who can lose support or unintentionally change the trajectory of a race if they make any gaffes. Debates also can help boost long-shot, third-party candidates, who often struggle to raise money and get their messages out.

In the 2018 race for governor, Mills debated Republican challenger Shawn Moody and independents Terry Hayes and Alan Caron about a half-dozen times. But that wasn’t enough for Hayes, who called out her rivals for withdrawing from several planned debates.

In 2014, there was a lot of back and forth about debates, with LePage backing out of an energy-focused debate and later saying he would not appear on the same stage with U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat. Michaud, in turn, said he would not debate independent Eliot Cutler unless LePage participated, although he later relented and said he would debate Cutler alone, if necessary.

The three candidates ultimately participated in five debates, three of which were televised.

LePage and Mills have had a decade-long rivalry. As attorney general during most of LePage’s two terms as governor, Mills frequently sparred with him in the media, in court disputes and in behind-the-scenes memos. But this is the first time their names have been on the same ballot.


In the spring, Mills was polling slightly ahead of LePage, though within the margin of error. She also has a 2-to-1 fundraising advantage over LePage, who has been outspent in his previous campaigns. However, both candidates are expected to be helped – or hurt – by millions of dollars in independent spending by outside groups.

The debates will provide Hunkler an opportunity to share the stage with two of Maine’s best-known politicians. A physician from the Down East island community of Beals, Hunkler has said he has a budget of only $5,000, and is hoping to pave a path to elected office for young people who oppose a two-party system.

Hunkler, who said he was invited to the Oct. 4, 11 and 27 debates, said he was looking forward to introducing himself to voters. He acknowledged the challenges of running an unorthodox campaign that is not raising money or hiring campaign staff.

“The debates will bring awareness of my standing and the differences I bring to the table as a non-party, non-politician candidate,” Hunkler said in an email. “I hope they allay the fear of voters.”

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