The coronavirus pandemic featured prominently in last night's Maine U.S. Senate debate, as Democratic candidate Sara Gideon and Republican Sen. Susan Collins sparred over state and federal relief efforts.
In the forum hosted by WAGM-TV in Presque Isle, Gideon used the congressional stalemate over another relief package to try and pierce one of Collins' main arguments for why she should be elected to a fifth term.
"Sen. Collins talks often about seniority," Gideon said. "She talks often about the value of being in Washington 24 years. But whether it's protecting pre-existing conditions, bringing down the costs for prescription drugs, or bringing more COVID relief home, she has not been able to do it and that seniority does not seem to matter for Mainers."
But Collins said Congress has passed three separate aid packages, "in fact, Congress has passed unanimously, including one that provided $3 trillion to deal with the pandemic."
One of those aid packages included the Paycheck Protection Program, which Collins has frequently touted on the campaign trail for having saved jobs by giving forgivable loans to businesses.
Gideon and Collins agreed that more aid is needed, including help for local governments and schools.
Collins also criticized Gideon, who is the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, for adjourning the Legislature in March.
Gideon lacks sole authority to call the Legislature back into session and Republican lawmakers have placed limits on terms for coming back. Gov. Janet Mills can call the Legislature back, but has said she's waiting for Congress to pass another relief bill before doing so.
Meanwhile, independent Senate candidate Lisa Savage used the second televised debate between the candidates to draw a contrast between her and Democratic candidate Sara Gideon on the issue of health care.
Savage has been campaigning on a progressive platform in a contest that will decided by ranked-choice voting. She supports universal health care, or Medicare for all, and said Gideon's plan for a public option falls short of meeting Mainers' needs.
"Making the 'Unaffordable' Care Act more affordable with a public option is not good enough," Savage said. "That will not solve the problems of the families of the students that I worked with as a school teacher for 25 years."
The fourth candidate in the race, independent Max Linn, took aim at the two front-runners.
"I think we need strong leadership in Washington and unfortunately Sara [Gideon] and Susan [Collins] are the definitions of weak leadership," Linn said. "They've paid their dues. It's time, we're in the bottom of the ninth, we need a grand slam and they sure aren't going to hit it."
Linn, a wildcard candidate who dropped several expletives in the debate, said Gideon and Collins are doing the bidding of party leaders.
Polls show Gideon either leading or tied with Collins, while Savage and Linn are polling in the single digits.
Correction: WAGM-TV in Presque Isle hosted the debate, not WABI-TV in Bangor.