AUGUSTA, Maine — An eighth-grader’s submitted question about negative political ads triggered the sharpest exchange among the five candidates for governor on Saturday night as they held their final debate before Election Day.
Republican candidate Paul LePage said more than $2 million had been spent by opponents attacking him, although he quipped, “One good thing about it — I’m a household name.”
Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell, the state Senate president, said her record in the Legislature has been badly misrepresented by LePage and independent Eliot Cutler. She said she was “tired of what’s being done to me.”
“For six months or so, I’ve been labeled as a big taxer, and it’s simply not true,” Mitchell said. “I have cut taxes.”
Cutler, who’s been a target of opponents’ attack ads and mailings that make references to his work as a lobbyist and as a lawyer involved with Chinese-American business interests, said political campaigns shouldn’t be opportunities “to destroy someone’s character, to distort someone’s reputation, to besmirch someone’s life’s work.”
Waving a mailing from LePage supporters that labeled him a lobbyist for China, he said, “That’s a lie.”
LePage, the Waterville mayor, has consistently led in polls, followed by Mitchell and Cutler. Trailing far behind in the race to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. John Baldacci are independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott. The election is Tuesday.
The issue of welfare reform also highlighted differences among the candidates during the televised debate, which was sponsored by WGME-TV and Maine Today Media.
LePage, who wants to create a multitiered system in which recipients get smaller benefits as they earn more, referred to his impoverished youth.
“I was born in it, and I worked my way out of it,” LePage said. “It’s time we bring common sense to Augusta.”
Mitchell said suggestions of widespread gaming of the welfare system have been overblown and she’s reluctant to cut off people who really need help.
“We’ve created a climate in this discussion where people are afraid to ask for help,” she said.
Scott said the issue should be developing jobs and not “scapegoating people,” and Moody said, “We’ve got to give people a lifeline, not a lifestyle.”
There were some areas of agreement. While all five candidates agreed they want to lower taxes, they said it can’t be done immediately because of the precarious state of the economy and its impact on the state budget.
“I don’t think it’s realistic right now,” Moody said.
Cutler sarcastically congratulated LePage for “postponing” tax cuts he’s promised, but LePage responded that he never said he’d cut them immediately.