Video: Candidates spar in fiery 2nd Congressional District debate

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Video supplied by CBS 13 News

PORTLAND — Voters were treated to the most lively debate of the campaign season so far as the three candidates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District took the stage for the first time Tuesday at CBS 13 studios for a televised debate.

Republican former State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, Democratic state Sen. Emily Cain and independent Blaine Richardson tackled immigration, the economy and gun control during the half-hour debate, which was co-hosted by the Bangor Daily News.

Poliquin emphasized his private sector experience and his status as a businessman, not a politician. He also used much of his time to criticize Cain, who he cast as a career politician who would vote in lock step with liberal House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

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On immigration reform, Poliquin said illegal immigration was a national security and health concern, and that employers must be “held responsible” for hiring only legal workers. But he quickly pivoted to Cain.

“My opponent supports amnesty for students who are here illegally,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to go.”

At issue was Cain’s support for the DREAM Act, a reform bill that would provide a path to legal, permanent residency to some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors, had been here for at least five years and had graduated from an American high school.

Cain initially ignored Poliquin’s prodding, but moderator Gregg Lagerquist pressed for a response.

“It’s not about blanket amnesty for anything,” Cain said. “That’s ridiculous. I’ve never said that. [But] we need comprehensive reform that includes a path to citizenship. That’s a reality.”

Richardson said the problem was that Washington was not adequately enforcing immigration laws already on the books. But he also took Poliquin to task for his constant remarks to Cain.

“There you go, Bruce: attack, attack, attack,” he said. “We have enough problems without attacking each other up here.”

And so it went for most of the evening: During each question, Poliquin used his time not only to provide his own response, but to criticize Cain in a seeming effort to prevent the Democrat from defining her own position. Richardson was left on the outside looking in, offering straightforward answers to each question that were ignored by his two major-party opponents.

Cain, for the most part, tried to stick to her own talking points: She argued that she was the only candidate with the political experience necessary to get things done in a gridlocked Congress while describing Poliquin in her closing statement as someone who puts “party politics, ideology and petty attacks before working with others.”

During a discussion on energy policy, Cain pointed to her work on Maine’s 2013’s Omnibus Energy Act, a bipartisan deal she said would lead to long-term decreases in the cost of energy and investments in natural gas.

Poliquin criticized Cain’s support for a carbon tax, which he said would “increase the cost to heat our homes, increase the cost of our electric bills, and increase the cost of gasoline.”

Cain said the idea that she wanted to increase energy costs was “ridiculous,” and cited the need to invest in renewable energy in an effort to emancipate the U.S. from dependence on foreign oil. Poliquin’s energy platform is devoid of any reference to renewable energy.

Richardson said he opposed the state’s current wind power scheme, which sees ratepayers pay a subsidy for the development of wind energy.

During a discussion on gun control and the Second Amendment, Cain said she supported universal background checks. Poliquin, who was endorsed by the NRA and received top marks from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said he didn’t believe any further restrictions on gun ownership were necessary.

Richardson said much the same, but said his commitment to the Second Amendment was even more solid than Poliquin’s.

“I don’t need [the NRA’s] endorsement because I’ve been a member for so many years,” he said. “I am the NRA.”

The independent candidate said voters should have a choice between more than just “a Wall Street broker” and “a career politician with little life experience.”

A Pan Atlantic SMS poll released Tuesday showed Cain ahead of Poliquin, 36 percent to 33 percent, with Richardson polling at about 6 percent. A separate poll by Critical Insights, also released Monday, showed the opposite: In that survey, Poliquin bested Cain 41 percent to 36 percent. Richardson again polled at 6 percent.

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