PORTLAND, Maine — Four Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls faced off Wednesday during a televised debate that they used as another opportunity to introduce themselves to undecided voters as well as discuss the issues a day after a poll indicated the race was wide open.
Businesswoman Rosa Scarcelli sought to capitalize on her role as political outsider while Libby Mitchell, Steve Rowe and Pat McGowan all touted their years of public service during a debate sponsored by WMTW-TV and the University of Southern Maine.
The poll released Tuesday found that about 60 percent of likely Democratic voters hadn’t made up their minds on who they’d support in next week’s election.
Scarcelli said she offers “a choice between change and more of the same, a departure from fiscal gimmicks and furlough days to greater accountability and investment in our future.”
She also took a jab at McGowan’s proposal to reduce the size of the Legislature, saying it’s a great idea that has been rejected repeatedly. “Joe Brennan ran on this idea. Pat was around then so he’d probably know,” she said, referencing his time in the legislature during the Brennan administration in the 1980s.
The candidates kept it civil as they talked about the need to lower energy costs, provide better and cheaper health care, create more jobs — and keep a Democrat in the Blaine House. Two-term Democratic Gov. John Baldacci is prevented from running because of term limits.
McGowan is a former Small Business Administration regional chief and state conservation commissioner. Mitchell served as both House speaker and Senate president. Rowe touted his service in the Army, as House speaker and as state attorney general. Scarcelli, who has never held office, runs a property management company.
During the debate, McGowan sought to cast himself as a “nontypical politician” who runs his own business, flies his own airplane and knows every nook of the state through hunting, fishing and hiking. He noted that 1 million acres were put into the public trust during his tenure as conservation commissioner.
Rowe responded to a claim in a newspaper article that he “relies more on his resume than his political charisma.”
“I didn’t bring my tap shoes, so I can’t tap dance tonight,” he quipped. “I’m about hard work, I’m about integrity and I’m about planning. If you want someone who’s a jokester or a slick politician, I’m not that person. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t speak in sound bites.”
Mitchell said she has a history of getting things done and pointed to her marshaling of a bond proposal that’ll be on the ballot Tuesday as a way she brought lawmakers together to do something to create jobs. She said the Legislature has been adopting policies to help set the stage for economic growth.
“We have to be honest with Maine people: No one is going to turn this state around in five minutes,” Mitchell said. “We’re all in this together and frankly Maine has done an extraordinary job of placing itself ready for this new economy.”
The four Democratic candidates will meet Thursday for a final debate hosted by MPBN in Lewiston. Maine’s seven GOP candidates will meet one more time Monday at USM.