Maine Candidates Continue Debate on Appearing in Debates

Jul 31, 2014

The statewide debate over statewide debates entered its second day Thursday with the Poliquin for Congress campaign denying that it had declined an invitation to appear with his two 2nd Congressional District challengers on MPBN television this fall. Meanwhile, a short-lived alliance between conservative independent Blaine Richardson and Democrat Emily Cain fell apart after Richardson backed out of a joint pledge to boycott any debate that did not include all three candidates. A.J. Higgins has the latest developments in this ongoing story.

For those of you keeping score at home, this much is still true: Republican Gov. Paul LePage says he will not participate in a MPBN gubernatorial debate that was planned for this fall. And Democratic challenger Mike Michaud continues to insist that he will not participate in any debate that does not include LePage. Independent Eliot Cutler says he will be happy to show up anywhere regardless of who is — or isn't — there. And Lee Schultheis of Freeport, who is on the ballot with the official campaign slogan of "I'm running for governor — but not really," may really show up — or not.

The landscape of the 2nd District debates — is still in flux.

"Blaine and I are here today to say that this election is too important to not give everyone their voice and we will only participate in debates where all three candidates are present," says Cain.

Cain, a Democratic state senator and Richardson, a conservative former Republican, now running as an independent, stood side by side at a joint press conference at the State House vowing to only take part in debates in which Republican Bruce Poliquin is also present. Poliquin's campaign had indicated to MPBN earlier this month it did not consider Richardson a "credible" candidate, citing his lack of fundraising and inactive campaign schedule. Poliquin campaign manager Matt Hutson later sent an email saying "At this time we are unable to commit to the debate." A news story about Poliquin's apparent decision to forgo the MPBN debate prompted Cain and Richardson to issue the joint statement, in which Richardson emphasized the importance of voters being given the chance to hear the positions of all the candidates.

"At the end of the day, the individual with the best argument, the best discussion on any issue is the one that's going to carry the field with the Maine voters," Richardson says.

But then, near the end of the press conference when Richardson was pressed on whether he would participate in a debate that didn't include Poliquin, Richardson changed his tune.

"I'm participating, are you kidding me?" Richardson says. "I'll speak at any opportunity to any Mainer any time of the day."

The remark prompted a slightly taken aback Emily Cain, to reinforce her position on debates.

"We'll both be campaigning, but my position is all three candidates must participate in all debates," Cain says.

The Poliquin for Congress campaign says that MPBN's Wednesday evening report regarding the campaign's decision not to participate in the MPBN was inaccurate.

"The email reads verbatim, 'at this time unable to commit to a debate.'" Hutson says. "That does not preclude ever doing a future debate. Obviously Bruce would love the opportunity to be in front of as many voters and reach as many folks as possible."

Hutson also says that the Poliquin campaign is proposing debate criteria that all candidates must agree to, including a viability requirement that participants must have at least 10 percent support in any two Maine polls — a threshold that he says Richardson could not clear.

"You look at the polls that are out there and Blaine is polling — with all due respect — at zero percent," Hutson says. "Zero percent is not a strong indicator of any actual support in the district. I'd also point to the fact that he's raised less than $300 in the last three months."

Richardson supporters say the real reason Poliquin wants Richardson out of the debate is that two years ago, when he ran as a conservative GOP candidate for the 2nd District, he pulled 40 percent of vote and that he could take a sizeable bite out of Poliquin's base of support.