AUGUSTA, Maine — In a letter Thursday to incumbent U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows says she wants 10 debates ahead of November’s election.
In her letter, Bellows said she “admired” the 10 debates Collins had with her Democratic opponent in 2008, then-U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, and said she thinks voters will benefit from the same schedule this year.
“As you know, voter confidence in Congress is at a near-record low,” Bellows wrote. “Mainers are concerned about the future and want to know who will stand with them every time on the issues that matter most. Hearing directly from you and me, unfiltered by spin, is the best way for them to make that choice.”
Bellows said she and Collins had “different views” on Social Security reform, student loan debt, marijuana legalization and national security, and that Mainers deserve to hear an airing of those differences more than once, at more than one venue.
Candidate debates traditionally take place in the fall, most of them occurring within the final month before the election.
But Bellows has becomes the second candidate in two races to publicly request an earlier start of debates. Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler has for months been asking his opponents — Republican incumbent Gov. Paul LePage and Democrat U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud — to begin debating.
Bellows and Cutler are both trailing their respective opponents in the polls, making them more eager than the front-runners for debates — which offer a large stage for candidates to get their views out to many voters, all at once.
Bellows, in particular, is a relative unknown outside the halls of the State House, where for years she was a regular presence as executive director of the American Civil LIberties Union of Maine. Debates offer her not only a venue to speak directly to voters, but a means to bridge the name recognition gap with Collins, a popular incumbent.
Collins campaign spokesman Lance Dutson responded to Bellows with a letter, in which he said Collins “looks forward to the campaign beginning in earnest this fall.”
Dutson didn’t agree to a set number of debates, but said he would coordinate the timing, location and number of debates with Bellows’ campaign. He also noted that the schedule would have to be built around Collins’ U.S. Senate schedule.
“Sen. Collins has never missed a roll call vote and takes that responsibility very seriously,” he wrote.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.