LEWISTON, Maine — Democrats vying to be their party’s candidate in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District discussed a range of issues Thursday during a forum at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College.
State Sens. Emily Cain, D-Orono, and Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, seemed to agree more than they disagreed on everything from renewable energy to unwarranted surveillance by the U.S. government.
Both said the federal government must do more to reduce the mounting debt facing American college graduates and both said they would oppose any effort to pursue offshore oil-drilling in Maine.
The biggest differences for those in the audience, largely faithful Democrats, seemed to be how each candidate came across.
Cain seemed precise and detailed in her responses while Jackson drew on his personal experiences and connections to the working class.
“Troy reminds me a little more of myself,” said Jimmy McHugh, a retired boilermaker from Mexico. “I love to hear someone like him talk about the struggles I’ve had to go through. He’s a regular guy, like me.”
Others said they valued Cain’s record in Augusta and her ability to find solutions, broker deals and bring Republicans and Democrats together.
State Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said she would be backing Cain in the June 10 primary. Rotundo said she respected and liked both Jackson and Cain, but while working with Cain on the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee, she witnessed Cain’s “incredible ability to solve problems.”
Both lawmakers said they believed access to quality health care is a basic human right. They said that if they made it to Congress, they would carry on Michaud’s long-standing efforts to help Maine veterans. Both also said they would work to protect and enhance Social Security.
In his closing remarks, Jackson, a logger, said he would never negotiate on “core issues” including universal access to health care, protecting Social Security and protecting the right of workers to organize for better wages and working conditions.
“I won’t back down to the tea party, because, believe me, Paul LePage doesn’t scare me — and trust me, he doesn’t; Ted Cruz and John Boehner won’t either,” Jackson said. “I think it’s ridiculous that legislators have government-funded health care and have the audacity to stand in the well of the House and the Senate and debate who else should have health care in this country.”
Cain said she, too, has been a strong ally of organized labor and has voted to increase the minimum wage four times during her 10-year tenure in the state Legislature. Cain also noted that she supported abortion rights.
“I have fought to empower Maine women and Maine families,” Cain said. “I have been unwavering in my work to protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, and I firmly believe that a woman’s health care decision should be made between her and her doctor, not her boss, and I’m the only candidate in this race with a record that shows that unwavering support.”
She hinted that she was better equipped than Jackson to negotiate deals with her political opponents, saying she looked at political disagreements not as a points of entrenchment but “as an opportunity to create a new path and to stay at the table to find a way forward.”
“We can’t send someone to Washington who thinks bickering and name calling is the right approach,” Cain said. “And my approach in Congress, as it has been in Augusta, will be to work together.”
Lewiston resident and voter Susan Charle said on most of the key issues, Cain and Jackson held very similar positions, and the thing that was most clear to her was that Democrats were going to have a tough decision to make in June.
“Usually when you come to a forum like this, you come away thinking, ‘Yeah this candidate is stronger,’” Charle said. “This is the first time I’ve come away where I have felt so strongly that both candidates are really good.”
Meanwhile, Maine Democrats also celebrated the opening of their 2014 Androscoggin County campaign offices on Lisbon Street with visits from Michaud and their U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows.