And now another edition of Maine's Political Pulse with our politics team in Augusta, Steve Mistler and Mal Leary. In this episode, Susan Sharon sat down with the team to look at this week's heated debates between the candidates for Maine's 2nd District Congressional seat.
SUSAN SHARON: All right. So to refresh everyone, this is the seat held by Republican Bruce Poliquin, who's being challenged by Democratic State Rep. Jared Golden and independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar. The first debate was on News Center Maine a few days ago and it turned into what one of the analysts on that station later called the equivalent of a food fight. Let's give it a listen.
Audio from debate: Golden: “You’re lying about my record and you're also hiding from your voting record which is very clear. You voted to cut Medicaid for one in five people in the state. You put all those jobs at risk. [Garbled conversation as everyone talks at once].” Bond: “I’d love a question.”
SHARON: Whew, So Steve Mistler, let's unpack this a little bit. This was a debate in which Bruce Poliquin called Jared Golden - at least five times - a young radical who embraces a Socialist agenda. And then Jared Golden attacked Bruce Poliquin for his record on health care. What's going on there?
MISTLER: Well, Susan, first, let's address the attack on Golden as the young radical, which as you pointed out I think he said at least a half-dozen times, if not more. In fact. I kept waiting for the moderator to ask a question: “What color does Bruce most prefer?” And I fully expected him to say, “Well, Jared prefers red because he's a young radical Socialist.” But those types of attacks, though, are all over the country. There are similar attacks in the governor's race in Wisconsin between Scott Walker and his challenger, and you could see it in all these other swing districts seats.
LEARY: I was in Cincinnati for a conference just a few weeks ago. I saw the same ad, almost cookie-cutter - even the same picture of Nancy Pelosi - for races in Kentucky, because Cincinnati is right there on the border, as well as in Cincinnati itself. So this is a cookie-cutter approach by Speaker Ryan's PAC to hammer this message home. And, again, this is independent expenditures for what Bruce Poliquin is saying in his own campaign, which also seems to mirror that national talking point.
MISTLER: The issue that you brought up, Susan, in your initial question about health care - that is also a national issue. And in ads all over the country Republicans in particular are on their heels on the subject of health care and on preexisting conditions, and Obamacare specifically.
LEARY: It has now become the biggest issue in the 2nd Congressional District. If you look at polling in the past, it's always been the economy and jobs.
SHARON: Bruce Poliquin was attacked by Jared Golden for his vote against the Affordable Care Act, and also Jared Golden said Bruce Poliquin is the biggest threat to Social Security and to Medicare. What is the truth there?
MISTLER: Well he did take a vote on the health care bill last year that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act - or Obamacare - without a replacement. That bill, that vote, has stuck with Bruce Poliquin and Republicans all over the country. One of the reasons why I think Golden is really pushing this issue is because Poliquin is vulnerable on it. And you're seeing that in the ads. The Wesleyan Media Project did a survey of ads and what issues were highlighted. Health care was in 53 percent of the ads nationwide. In Maine, 94 percent in August. It's about 73 percent right now. But we're only two weeks - not even two weeks - into October.
SHARON: These four people have very different ideas about how well the economy is doing in Maine's 2nd District. Bruce Poliquin says the economy's doing well. The independents in the race really went after him about that.
LEARY: They did with good reason because the economy in the 2nd Congressional District is not mirroring what we're seeing nationwide, which is what Bruce Poliquin is talking about – he’s talking about that national economic picture, which is pretty good. But you start looking at sections of Washington County and Piscataquis County and Aroostook County - you've got still high single digit unemployment. You have an awful lot of situations where people are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. So, there's a falseness there when you talk about the economy being good in the 2nd District, because all of the factors that you look at that are independent of politics are that they're not.
SHARON: Well let me ask you this, Steve Mistler: When people are watching a debate that turned out the way the one did on the 2nd CD the other night what's the takeaway for them?
MISTLER: When you have two people and they're sitting right next to one another, as they were the other night, and it's just clear that they just don't, maybe, personally care for one another – I don’t know - but it just seems as though you have two partisans and, you know, the two independents are just sort of saying, “Can we get involved in this discussion?” Aesthetically, it doesn't look good for the two major-party candidates.
LEARY: The whole tenor of the campaign, where you've got the major party candidates yelling at each other saying, You're lying” “No, you're lying even more” is turning off some voters. And I think the beneficiary will be the two independents.