LEWISTON, Maine — The top rivals hoping to win the seat of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, squared off in a three-way debate at the Franco-American Center on Monday evening.
Before a live audience of about 300 people and hundreds more online, Republican Charlie Summers, independent Angus King and Democrat Cynthia Dill fielded nearly 90 minutes worth of questions.
They touched on a range of topics, including health care, the economy, energy and war. They also defended their campaigns and their positions on key issues, including why they felt they were the best choice to replace Snowe, who is retiring after three terms in the U.S. Senate.
From gun control to how special education is funded to whether the Federal Reserve is pursuing the right monetary policies, the candidates agreed, disagreed and essentially agreed to disagree.
Each played to their strengths, Summers pitching his experience as a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dill to her lifelong commitment to progressive values and King to the things he accomplished during his eight years as Maine’s top executive.
King pitched his independence and focused on trying to be a politician who would do things differently than the status quo of the two-party system.
“The system isn’t working,” King said. “All of you know this, it’s the worse we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes and one of my life principles is if something is not working, then doing the same thing harder isn’t going to give you a different result.”
Summers said he didn’t believe the government in the U.S. was broken, only without leadership.
“The system is not broken,” Summers said. “It is rudderless, it is without leadership.” He again challenged King’s record on the state budget during King’s time in office and reiterated the biggest issue facing the country was the federal budget deficit.
“The problem that this country faces in terms of its debt and in terms of its spending is one that will be the pre-eminent issue that faces the next United States senator,” Summers said.
Dill said neither Summers or King had it right. “You’ve got one candidate who says the system is broken. But let’s face it, it is broke, but it’s not broke for guys like him. It’s broke for the rest of us,” Dill said.
“You have another candidate who says the problems are debt and deficit, and yet his response is let’s lower tax rates some more, expand our military presence around the world and then give tax deductions for health care premiums. Do the math all of you,” she said.
Dill said she was the only candidate in the race standing up for working families and small businesses.
King and Summers both begged to differ.
Dill and King agreed they would support the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare” that was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, while Summers said he would work to repeal it.
The candidates also offered vastly differing views on gun control, the Federal Reserve and another U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows for anonymous donations to political “super PACS.”
King has been the target of multiple television attack ads financed by these organizations. Dill has also had ads produced on her behalf, but without her support or permission.
Summers reiterated his position that those organizations were practicing their rights to free speech while King and Dill both bashed the practice.
Dill said a constitutional amendment was not beyond the realm of possibilities when it came to fixing the problem.
King then pointed out a person in the audience who he said was paid by the Republican National Senatorial Committee to follow him around.
“He goes everywhere I go and I assume he wants to get a picture of me slugging a baby,” King said. He said the person, who King identified only as “Zach,” was following his campaign and taking pictures every place King went.
“I’ve got to tell you I think it’s pretty lousy that we’ve sunk to that level of negativity in our campaigns,” King said. He noted $1.3 million in negative advertising had been spent against him.
The candidates did agree on several areas. All said they would not favor putting combat troops in Syria and that they do not support a pre-emptive U.S. military strike against Iran.
The candidates also seemed to agree on the federal No Child Left Behind Act, saying federal education standards that were not sustained with federal funds were unfair and that education standards should be handled at the state and federal level.
In his opening statements, Summers spoke with concern about his youngest son, Thomas.
“I wonder whether or not he will have the same opportunities that I had. Will he have the same opportunity to move forward to know that if you work hard and you apply yourself in this world, then you will actually be successful and move forward in this world?” Summers asked. “I think those are the great questions that are facing us.”
Dill said she got in the race early and emphasized it was before Snowe announced her retirement. “I agree that government in Washington is broken but I would submit it is broken for most of us, but it works very well for a very small class of people, of which some of my opponents belong.”
King said Snowe’s retirement message prompted him to get back into politics.
“I wouldn’t have chosen this, or predicted it 10 years ago,” King said. “But sometimes an opportunity or a situation or a challenge arises that you simply can’t walk away from.”
To see more from the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.