Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil: Labor Day is behind us, which means the fall season is fast approaching and voters instinctively sense political season is officially here.

Ethan: And with the beginning of political season, we have our first big event of the U.S. Senate race. Sponsored by the Bangor Daily News, Sen. Susan Collins, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon and independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn square off for their first debate on Friday night!

Phil: Could be a food fight or fascinating discussion. Either way, it should be a great opportunity for voters to finally start making up their minds about which candidate they prefer.

Ethan: How about we use this opportunity to offer the candidates our best advice on what they should do Friday night?

Phil: You mean like, “Hey, Max, use the debate to drop out and endorse Susan!”

Ethan: That would certainly get some attention.

Phil: I assume that’s the same advice you would offer Savage, since she also has no chance of winning?

Ethan: Certainly not. With ranked-choice voting, there is no fear that those who vote for Savage will be taking votes from Gideon and enabling a win for Collins. And from my perspective, her being in the race is good for the debate — and good for Gideon. Because Savage is the most progressive, she can and should push hard on those values. This both allows Gideon to be seen as the more moderate candidate she is, and it ensures that issues like Medicare for all and the Green New Deal get debated in public.

Phil: Debating those budget busters is definitely a good idea, but no one is going to believe Gideon isn’t far out of the mainstream just because Savage is on stage. Which brings me to my advice for Collins. Don’t be defensive. You are one of the most accomplished senators in Maine history and Gideon’s absence as speaker of the Maine House during this pandemic reveals the difference between them. Make that as clear as possible. Your actions help Maine people. Gideon’s “actions” are just words.

Ethan: My advice for Collins is to understand that this race is all about the voters having lost faith in her. Sixty percent of voters say their opinion of her has grown more negative since the last election and she has to find a way to win back their trust. That starts with a much more forceful rebuke of President Donald Trump’s behavior and policies.

Phil: Putting my own feelings aside, you have to understand there is strong support for Trump in Maine among Republicans and she can’t simply disregard those voters. My advice? Stay away from how you feel about Trump. No one will vote for or against Collins because of who she wants in the White House. Stay focused on what you will do as a senator.

Ethan: I do agree with you that talking about Trump pulls Collins away from what she wants to discuss. However, like it or not, Trump is a force of nature and ignoring forces of nature is never a good idea. She has been trying that strategy for four years and it made her the least liked senator in Congress. Which brings me to Gideon. If I am her, almost every time I say “Collins” I say “Trump.” Tie him around her neck like the albatross he already is.

Phil: I suppose when you have no record to stand on, that is all you have. But if Gideon really wants to gain support that is actually hers, and not simply the votes of people voting against someone else, she needs to use this debate to demonstrate that she has the gravitas to hold court and deliver for Maine in the halls of the most revered body in the United States.

Ethan: I do agree that Gideon must show that she has the gravitas to walk shoulder to shoulder with the greats like Olympia Snowe, Ed Muskie, George Mitchell and Margaret Chase Smith. Mainers expect greatness from their senators, as they should. But remember, none of them started as icons. They first had to win. And winning this time is, first and foremost, about convincing voters that Susan Collins has to go.

Phil: You didn’t offer any advice for Max?

Ethan: Oh, I agree with you, he should drop out.

Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.