Maine has the oldest population in the nation. So senior voters will have a huge say in the outcome of campaigns up and down this year's ballot. In Maine's 2nd Congressional District, Republican Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Emily Cain are spending lots of time and money, trying to convince seniors that they're the candidate who will protect the Social Security and Medicare guarantee.
On a Monday in late September, the Poliquin campaign released this TV ad:
AUDIO FROM AD: "We need to protect Social Security and Medicare - not only for our seniors, but for future generations. My dad was a teacher. My mom was a nurse. She relies on Social Security. And Medicare was there when mom broke her shoulder."
Hours after the spot began airing, an e-mail from Emily Cain's campaign showed up in reporters' in-boxes. The subject line? Fact Check: Poliquin Ad Misleads Maine Seniors.
"Social Security and Medicare is one of the sharpest contrasts between me and my opponent, Bruce Poliquin," said Emily Cain, who was interviewed this week on Maine Calling on MPBN Radio, as was Poliquin.
In her appearance, Cain criticized Poliquin's support of the 2014 budget put forward by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Budget Committee. The Ryan budget calls for moving, in 2024, to a marketplace system, where future retirees would get a premium support payment and choose between a private plan or the traditional, fee-for-service Medicare option.
By supporting this approach, Cain says Poliquin wants to "end Medicare as we know it. He's talked about Social Security and Medicare as bankrupting our country, and has supported raising the retirement age just this year. Those kinds of policies will be hurtful to Maine seniors and cost them thousands of dollars."
"My opponent and her agents have been falsely attacking me for positions I do not hold," said Poliquin in his Maine Calling interview. Poliquin said he does not favor any changes to Social Security or Medicare for current or soon-to-be retirees, who've already paid into the programs. Social Security Trust Fund reserves are projected to last through the year 2033. After that, income will cover just 77 percent of future payouts.
"For younger people starting out, we must make adjustments to save the programs for them," Poliquin said. "These programs are consuming more and more of our government spending. They're on auto-pilot. And we need to make sure we address these issues."
Poliquin went on to mention a few possible changes, such as raising the retirement age and smaller benefits for wealthier seniors. He doesn't list any of these kinds of specifics on his campaign website, where Democrats would almost certainly seize on them.
"Maine has an older population. In the 2nd District, you have an older population than you do in the 1st District," says Colby College Government Professor Anthony Corrado.
And all those seniors? They vote - in large numbers, Corrado says. "Therefore, both sides are orienting messages towards older voters because they know they're going to be a crucial voting block in this year's election."
And that means all voters in the district are likely to see more TV ads in the coming weeks, both positive and negative, on the two subjects senior voters are most concerned about: Social Security and Medicare. reform Social Security and Medicare?
The third candidate in the race, conservative independent Blaine Richardson, says the country has an ethical obligation to protect Social Security benefits for all of those who have paid into it, and that younger Americans should have the ability to set up self-investment plans as an alternative to paying into the Social Security Administration. Richardson says Medicare and Medicaid should be available for those who truly need it, but should be seen as a safety net, not a long-term solution.