U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and House Speaker Sara Gideon clashed over pandemic relief and the Supreme Court in the second debate of their race on Monday, while independent Lisa Savage highlighted ranked-choice voting and Max Linn theatrically went after both party candidates.
The debate, hosted in Presque Isle by WAGM and Bangor-based CBS affiliate WABI, came just before Maine is set to begin early and absentee voting on Thursday. At least two more debates are scheduled for October in the nationally targeted race.
Gideon, a Democrat, has narrowly led the Republican incumbent in public polling all year in the race, which kicked off in earnest following Collins’ vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. The major-party candidates have collectively raised more than $40 million as of a few months ago, while outside groups have poured another $50 million into the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Supreme Court was a central topic on Monday night, as candidates addressed the court’s future following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Over the weekend, President Donald Trump nominated conservative Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. Collins has broken with her party and said she will oppose the nomination, citing Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama’s final high court nominee prior to the 2016 election.
Both Gideon and Collins said the court has become overly partisan. Gideon criticized the Republican senator for votes to confirm judges appointed by Trump in 2017 and 2018, while Collins said Gideon needed to take a harder stance against reforms proposed by some Democrats such as court-packing. Gideon said she opposes proposed reforms, though she did not get into specifics.
“What we have to focus on is how we get back to a judiciary that is independent once again,” Gideon said.
The pair also clashed over questions on pandemic relief, with Gideon criticizing Collins over Congress’s inability to agree on a pandemic relief package in recent months, saying the Republican senator’s seniority was not able to accomplish results, while Collins went after the House Speaker over the Maine Legislature’s mid-March adjournment.
“She adjourned the Legislature, she’s had virtually no discussions with Republicans to get them back to work,” Collins said.
The state Legislature passed a flurry of bills before shutting in March, but lawmakers were unable to come up with an agreement to return this summer. At a federal level, Congress passed several stimulus bills in March, including one with the Paycheck Protection Program, a program Collins co-authored which has provided $669 billion in business loans. However, lawmakers in Washington have been stymied on additional legislation since.
Gideon called for more federal aid to help schools and state and local governments, causes that Collins has also expressed support for. Savage highlighted the importance of aid targeted at individuals.
Linn, who drew attention in the first debate of the race early this month for ignoring moderators’ questions, continued with the theatrics Monday night, cutting up face coverings on the stage as a way of signifying opposition to government overreach. He was critical of both Collins and Gideon, blaming establishment parties for Washington’s woes, though they largely ignored him.
On the issue of health care, Gideon argued Congress needed to build on the Affordable Care Act while decrying the lawsuit to undo the health law, which will be heard by the Supreme Court after the election. Collins highlighted legislation she has championed to increase transparency around prescription drug prices.
Savage touted her support for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal — two ideas championed by national progressives that Gideon has declined to take up — and highlighted the role of ranked-choice voting in the race.
“Ranked-choice voting lets you vote your values, instead of just voting against whoever you like least,” she said.