Gov. Janet Mills, former Gov. Paul LePage and independent candidate Sam Hunkler will appear on stage in at least one debate before the November election.

The three candidates have agreed to participate in an Oct. 4 debate in Lewiston sponsored by the Portland Press Herald and Maine Public. It wasn’t clear Tuesday how many other debates are planned and whether all three candidates will appear together in other forums.

The October debate will take place at the Franco Center at 8 p.m.

Only one other organization has confirmed it plans to host a gubernatorial debate. The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce will hold a debate on Oct. 11 in Waterville.

Candidates for Maine governor, Sam Hunkler, Paul LePage and Janet Mills

Cindy Stevens, program director for the Mid-Maine Chamber, said Tuesday that Mills has not yet confirmed her attendance, while LePage and Hunkler have.

Stevens said the debate would take place at Thomas College with or without Mills. It will be moderated by Thomas College President Laurie LaChance. The event is expected to run from 7:15-9 a.m. and will be open to the public.


LePage’s campaign strategist, Brent Littlefield, said the campaign planned to release a debate schedule Tuesday afternoon, but failed to do so. He dismissed interest in LePage’s debate schedule as “inside baseball.”

Mary Erin Casale, who is working with the Mills campaign, confirmed only that the governor will participate in the Press Herald-Maine Public debate.

“Currently, we are considering other requests against the governor’s schedule, but look forward to having a robust discussion about how Gov. Mills will continue to move Maine forward while Paul LePage is focused on taking us backward,” Casale said in an email Monday.

Candidates around the country have become more hesitant to debate political opponents as politicians and their campaign surrogates focus on other ways, including social media, to get their messages out to supporters.

Politicians are debating whether to debate in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina, The Associated Press reported. Debates are “the one forum where candidates are forced into answering questions that they don’t want to answer,” veteran national political consultant Terry Sullivan told the AP.

Debates can carry risks for front-runners, who can lose support or unintentionally change the trajectory of the race if they make any gaffes. Debates also can help boost long-shot, third-party candidates, who often struggle to raise money and get their messages out.


In the 2018 race for governor, Mills debated Republican challenger Shawn Moody and independents Terry Hayes and Alan Caron about a half dozen times. But that wasn’t enough for Hayes, who called out her rivals for withdrawing from several planned debates.

In 2014, there was a lot of back-and-forth about debates, with LePage backing out of an energy-focused debate and later saying he would not appear on the same stage with U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat. Michaud, in turn, said he would not debate independent Eliot Cutler unless LePage participated, although he later relented and said he would debate Cutler alone, if necessary.

The three candidates ultimately participated in five debates, three of which were televised.

LePage and Mills have had a decade-long rivalry. As attorney general during most of LePage’s two terms as governor, Mills frequently sparred with LePage in the media, in court disputes and in behind-the-scenes memos. But this is the first time their names have been on the same ballot.

In the spring, Mills was polling slightly ahead of LePage, though within the margin the error. She also has a 2-to-1 fundraising advantage over LePage, who has been outspent in his previous campaigns. However, both candidates are expected to be helped – or hurt – by millions of dollars in independent spending by outside groups.

The Oct. 4 debate will provide Hunkler with an opportunity to introduce himself to a large audience of voters and share the stage with two of Maine’s best-known politicians. A physician from the Down East island community of Beals, Hunkler has said he has a budget of only $5,000 is hoping to pave a path to elected office for young people who oppose a two-party system.

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