LEWISTON, Maine — Former state Sen. Eric Brakey and former state Rep. Dale Crafts clashed over foreign policy in a Thursday debate among the three Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in to take on U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in Maine’s 2nd District.
Brakey, Crafts and Adrienne Bennett, who was the spokeswoman for former Gov. Paul LePage, have largely echoed each other in their meetings so far, running on their support of President Donald Trump in a Republican-leaning district that he won in 2016. Trump will be on the ballot again this year after Golden, a Democrat, flipped the seat in 2018.
Some daylight emerged — particularly between the libertarian Brakey and the evangelical, more traditional Crafts — at a debate at Lewiston Middle School on Thursday night held by Androscoggin County Republicans and attended by about 50 people.
Brakey and Crafts, leading the pack on fundraising among the Republican field, clashed over foreign policy, an issue that gained traction after Trump ordered the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. At the same time, Trump has continued to state a goal of pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East.
Brakey, who got his start in Maine politics in 2012 working for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, has spun his foreign policy as aligning with Trump. On Afghanistan, he said no one knows “why we’re over there,” pointing to recent Washington Post reporting on the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama misleading the public on the war.
He said “we’re getting ripped off by the world” by serving as “policemen of the world,” and said America needs to “serve itself,” not allies like Saudi Arabia, when it joins conflicts.
Crafts criticized that from an economic angle, saying the U.S. economy would “absolutely collapse tomorrow” if the United States pulled its troops from around the globe, while there would be international repercussions, too.
“China and Russia would overtake the world,” he said. “Al-Qaeda and ISIS would go rampant and Israel would be wiped off the face of the earth.”
Candidates also differed on what issues they would look to tackle if they manage to unseat Golden. Bennett expressed an interest in transportation and infrastructure, highlighting their importance to Maine’s economy.
“We need to get that technology,” said Bennett, referring to widespread broadband internet, “to where it needs to be so we can help out businesses and we can help our families.”
Brakey said he would like to serve on the committee covering health and human services, building on his experience from his time as a state senator, while Crafts said he would like to serve on the tax-writing committee as a way to leverage his business experience.
The three mostly agreed that they would lower the government’s deficit by balancing the budget and finding ways to cut costs. Brakey went further, saying the government should defund “unconstitutional agencies” like the Department of Education, cut defense spending and stop sending foreign aid to countries who “burn our flag.”
In areas where they agreed, candidates relied on life stories to distinguish themselves. Bennett referenced her life as a single mother and growing up poor in Troy as proof that she isn’t a “career politician,” echoing characterizations of Trump in the 2016 primary.
Brakey and Crafts pointed to their time in the Legislature to show qualifications. Brakey often referred to his bill to get rid of concealed carry permit requirements in Maine; Crafts noted a conservative track record in the Legislature and emphasized his religious beliefs.
Mary Ellen Farrell, a former social worker from Durham, said she was attending the debate to get a feel for “who speaks to” the district best. For now, she thinks that might be Crafts.
“He speaks from his heart,” she said.