BANGOR, Maine — Four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate who took on some of the weightiest issues facing Maine and the nation Tuesday night showed little in the way of philosophical differences.
All four describe themselves as conservative. All four say they are opposed to same-sex marriage and, despite a few exceptions such as having to choose between an unborn child and its mother, abortion.
They also, for the most part, said they felt decisions about education, whether they involved public school, private schools, homeschooling or vouchers, were best left to students and their parents.
The four hopefuls who turned up — State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, state Sen. Debra Plowman, small businessman Scott D’Amboise and Rick Bennett, a former state lawmaker now running a research firm — saved their tough talk for their closing statements.
Held at Bangor Baptist Church, Tuesday’s two-hour “Values Voter U.S. Senate Candidate Forum” was sponsored by the Christian Civic League of Maine, the Maine chapter of Concerned Women for America and Maine Right to Life. Each of those groups had a representative on hand to pose questions to the candidates who are seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Plowman noted that she had been fighting to uphold conservative values for decades.
“I have walked the walk, talked the talk and kept the faith,” she said. “This is so trite-sounding until you do that day after day, every year, year after year, in the Maine State Legislature.”
While conservative Mainers have a large field of candidates to choose from, this year they need to support the candidate they feel has the best chance at beating former Gov. Angus King, who is seeking the Senate seat as an independent.
“It’s not a popularity contest, it’s a competence contest,” Plowman said. “It is so important to this state and to our nation. This seat could very well provide the majority in the U.S. Senate. So when you are looking at all of us, look again to see who will be the person most likely to win. I think I’m that person.”
D’Amboise focused on the fact he began running for the seat two years before Snowe announced she was stepping down.
“I had the courage, I had the conviction, to challenge a political giant in Senator Snowe and everybody said, ‘You’re crazy. You’re never going to win,’” he said. He said it is up to voters to decide “who the true conservative is. You’re going to hear that word spread around a lot. You’ve heard of the game show called ‘To Tell the Truth?’ It’s up to you to figure out who is telling the truth.
“Americanism is being lost in this country. Patriotism is being lost. It is not being taught to our youth. It needs to be taught in our homes. All problems can be solved by sitting at the dinner table and talking to your children. I try to do that. I love my country and I believe in a country where you have the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion and the freedom of entrepreneurship.”
Bennett chose to bring up an issue that wasn’t raised by panelists — gambling.
“In this state we have seen the pernicious, creeping growth and expansion of gambling across our state,” he said. “I raise this because many people of faith have talked to me about this issue because of the corrosive impact it has on our communities on individuals on families.
To that end, he said, he stood up against gambling in all forms as a state lawmaker, even when it made him one of most unpopular people in Oxford County, which like the rest of Maine has been struggling to create jobs and improve the regional economy.
“I just wanted to tell you that what you hear from me is the truth,” Bennett said. “I stood up at the Oxford town meeting when almost everyone around me was opposed to my point of view and told them why I thought this was the wrong choice for the people of Maine.”
Poliquin said he told his son Sam that being state treasurer was the easiest job he ever had: “All you do is tell the truth and do what’s right.”
Holding up a piece of molding from a Maine State Housing Authority project in Waterville, he said that he has fought to change rules that make little sense — such as the one requiring that costly white oak be used to replace more than 80-year-old trim which was going to be painted over anyway.
That and similar rules pushed the cost of each of the 34 units in that building to $292,000, he said, adding, “Now this is when we have about 6,500 families in homeless shelters or on waiting lists to get into low-income apartments.”
“I have a track record. I am the only conservative, true conservative, with a track record of fiscal reform,” he said. “We need somebody who thinks like us, who is conservative, to do the right thing, who is not a career politician and who can weather the criticism because this race could very well determine the balance of power in Washington.”
Charles Summers, who now is Maine’s secretary of state, was unable to participate because of a scheduling conflict but sent along a written statement that was read during the forum by Rep. Doug Damon, R-Bangor.
In addition to King, the other candidates for Snowe’s seat include Attorney General William Schneider, who is a Republican, and Democrats Matthew Dunlap, who is a former Secretary of State; state Sen. Cynthia Dill; Rep. Jon Hinck; and Portland home builder Ben Pollard.