The two candidates vying for the 2nd District’s congressional seat drew sharp contrasts between themselves in the first debate of their campaign Tuesday.

Covering topics that included everything from a drug epidemic to taxes, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Emily Cain slammed one another often during the 55-minute showdown on Maine Public Television.

At one point during a discussion about taxes, the freshman congressman declared he has “paid every dollar owed in taxes, always.” Then the 62-year-old added, “I’ve been paying taxes longer than Emily Cain has been alive.”

“It’s pretty much a cheap shot to talk about my age,” Cain, 36, countered. Discussing age “is just him trying to discount my experience” as a lawmaker for a decade, she said.

Another hourlong debate is slated for 7 p.m. tonight on WAGM-TV in Presque Isle. In addition to airing there, it will be simulcast on WMTW, an ABC station in Portland and WABI, a CBS affiliate in Bangor.

Poliquin took issue with Cain’s stated support of a carbon tax, an idea pushed by some to help limit the impact of climate change. He said it would “drive up the price of energy,” especially electricity, and “kill manufacturing jobs.”

Cain said nobody wants to hike the cost of energy.

“Energy costs need to come down,” she said, adding that’s why she favors solar and biomass alternatives.

“We can put ourselves in charge of our energy future,” she said. “Maine is well-poised to be a leader.”

Quizzed about their positions on the five ballot questions, Poliquin declined to say which ones he would support.

“I’m not going to tell the people of Maine how to vote,” he said.

Cain said she plans to vote in favor of all except Question 1, the legalization of marijuana. She said she’s opposed because she wants to focus on “breaking the addiction problem.”

“I hope it’s clear to those listening at home what the difference has been in these last five questions,” she said. “I’ve been straight with you. I’ve been upfront with you.”

But all Poliquin has offered, she said, “is a lot of political double-talk.”

Poliquin also refused to say, once again, whether he supports his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

“I’m not getting involved in this media frenzy,” he said.

Cain, who backs Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton, said answering the question “is not about confrontation and it’s not about media circus.”

“It’s about whether we can be trusted to speak up and tell the truth about where we stand on fundamental questions about the direction of our country,” Cain said.

Asked about the designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the two said there’s no choice except to make the best of President Barack Obama’s decision.

“It is time to leverage this opportunity,” Cain said, vowing to hold the federal government accountable on its promises about funding and use of the property. She said she wants to bring back good, year-round jobs.

Poliquin said local people “need to be involved in the management of the land” and to protect the 4,100 jobs that depend on the woods. He said it’s important “to work with everybody” to get it right.

Both candidates bemoaned all of the money pouring into each race, much of it from outside groups. They each said they favor more transparency about who’s coughing up all that cash.

Poliquin talked extensively about his efforts to save Maine jobs, discussing his role in helping New Balance and in securing a decision that allows Maine lobsters to continue to be sold in Europe.

Cain discussed her ability to work with GOP legislators on important measures such as the state budget adopted five years ago that sliced taxes and spending. She said that by working with the other side, the Legislature was able to craft a better bill than the one initially sought by Gov. Paul LePage.

Moderator Jennifer Rooks asked what each candidate admired about the other.

Poliquin saluted Cain “for having that passion” to pursue a career in politics since moving from New Jersey to Maine to go to college.

Cain praised Poliquin as “a good dad” before blasting him for taking “a cheap shot” at her because she had to move around as a child so her father could find work.

“He’s really attacking my family, and that’s something I would never do to the congressman,” she said. “Bruce is a good dad. My dad was a good dad, too.”

The Maine Public debate between Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and challenger Emily Cain will be broadcast again on Maine Public Television at 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 3; at 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6; and 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7.

Maine Public Radio will air the debate at 2 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 27; 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 3; and 11 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 6.


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