The three candidates for governor sparred over negative advertising Thursday, accusing each other or their supporters of making false and disingenuous statements in the final days of the campaign.

The tense exchanges came during the final time the three contenders — Democrat Janet Mills, Republican Shawn Moody and independent Terry Hayes — shared a stage and were in stark contrast to the four, largely congenial previous debates. Moderator Gregg Lagerquist with WGME played snippets of several attack ads targeting the three candidates and then gave each a chance to react.

“You attack my personal credibility and reputation. You are making it personal and that’s not right,” Moody said to Mills, the state’s attorney general.

Moody was referring to a new Mills campaign television ad that accuses the Republican of firing a female employee “just for having a baby.” That is in reference to a 2006 Maine Human Rights Commission complaint against Moody and his auto body repair shop, a case that was settled and eventually withdrawn.

Moody called the comment “slanderous” and said he has “always put women, everyone at Moody’s with respect and dignity.”

The Mills campaign ad is, in part, a response to a Republican attack ad focused on a plea deal negotiated by Mills’ office with a former sheriff’s deputy accused of sexually assaulting multiple underage girls. The ad, sponsored by the Maine Republican Party, said Mills “let him avoid jail time” when the plea came after a jury acquitted the man on most charges and deadlocked on others.

Mills called the ad “completely untruthful” and said Moody should denounce it. He did not respond to her call to tell the party to take down the ad.

“I’m the mother of five daughters, grandmother of two little girls, so I was disgusted by that ad,” said Mills, a former district attorney for Western Maine. “I have personally prosecuted hundreds of sex-abuse cases. And if I had been on the jury who heard the case … I would have voted to convict, no doubt about it.”

Hayes, in turn, pointed to the accusations flying between the two candidates and the negative ads aired against her as proof of why Mainers should support the only independent left in the race.

“I have never run a negative ad and I never will,” said Hayes, the state’s treasurer and a Clean Elections candidate. “I want you to know, this is part of the reason why I believe we need a nonpartisan leader in the executive branch, someone who is going to cut through this stuff and focus on what really matters.”

A fourth candidate on the ballot, independent Alan Caron, dropped out of the race Monday and endorsed Mills.

To date, Maine’s 2018 race for governor has largely been a civil, policy-oriented affair among the candidates. Much of the mudslinging in the race has come from the Maine Democratic Party and the Maine Republican Party, or from national groups on both sides that have poured millions of dollars into the state.

A poll released this week by Emerson College showed Mills leading Moody by 8 percent, but the poll failed to ask about Hayes (or Caron, who is still on the ballot) by name but instead asked voters if they supported “someone else.”

In the WGME debate co-hosted by the Bangor Daily News and AARP-Maine, candidates also answered questions about other high-profile policy issues.

On the issue of immigration, Moody said he would oppose “sanctuary cities” and supported President Donald Trump’s efforts to “secure the border” with Mexico. But Moody said legal immigrants are being forced to wait too long to gain work permits. Mills said the federal government is “terribly dragging its feet in processing people’s applications for asylum, for refugee status and for green cards.” Both Mills and Hayes said skilled immigrants can help meet serious workforce needs in the state.

Asked whether they would support sending Maine National Guard troops to the Mexican border if requested by Trump, only Moody said he would, while Mills and Hayes were definitive no’s.

On taxes, Hayes discussed her proposal to lower Maine’s income tax to 5 percent by the end of her first term in part by broadening the sales tax to capture more tourist dollars. Republican Gov. Paul LePage proposed such a plan several times, only to see it rejected by his party’s lawmakers.

Moody said he was not interested in raising taxes and said growing the economy and trimming government would allow him to lower taxes. Mills, in turn, said she was “not interested in raising taxes” and would focus on building small businesses.

But it was feisty exchanges over ads and campaign tactics that distinguished Thursday’s debate.

Moody told Mills that she ought to apologize for “attacking my character and integrity.” Mills responded by saying Moody has been silent on the “untruthful” ad despite the facts of the case and her career history.

“I have stood up for the rights of women for my entire career and I will continue to do so as governor,” Mills said. “I have never changed my position, for instance, on abortion. I have always been pro-choice … eight years ago he said he was pro-choice and now he is saying he is pro-life. It’s fair game to point out that someone is inconsistent on issues as important as that.”

Moody responded by saying, “That is totally not true.”

“If Janet Mills is going to attack one of the most reputable fathers, family figures, community members and business people in the state of Maine, is going to attack me, what do you think she is going to do to you in running the state government?” Moody said.

Hayes, in turn, criticized Mills for her campaign sending out a mailer suggesting that a vote for her was a vote for Moody.

“I’m not stealing anybody’s votes by putting my hat in the ring and competing legitimately for this opportunity to lead Maine,” Hayes said. “You will never see anything like this from me.”

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