Crown Politics

Republicans who want LePage’s job jockey for his voters in final debate before primary

Good morning from Augusta. Maine’s televised primary debates ended on Thursday after three networks hosted the four Republican gubernatorial candidates in Augusta. It opened with an attack on businessman Shawn Moody, but the hopefuls largely stayed in their own lanes.

Moody backed further away from moderate positions he held in the past, former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew tacked hard to the right and the two legislators, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette dinged Moody less than in the past while pitching themselves as pragmatists.

Mason’s early attack on a Moody mailer backfired with a pro-Moody audience. Moody recently sent a mailer to Republicans that hit all of his opponents, including Mason for his use of taxpayer campaign funds to recruit staffers from Florida. He went to a Christian college there and has run an internship programfor Senate Republican campaigns since 2014.

After being asked how to keep young people in Maine, Mason jumped quickly to hit Moody, saying he was attacking people who have chosen to stay in Maine and that he should “apologize to them.” Laughter and murmurs came from a Moody-friendly crowd and Moody deflected the hit by calling it “negative and abrasive,” generating hoots from the audience.

Moody said his ‘personal position’ on abortion hasn’t changed, but his campaign position has since his 2010 gubernatorial run. WMTW reporter Paul Merrill had the job of pinning candidates down for the hour-long debate. When Moody ran for governor in 2010, he said that people’s choices on abortion are “up to them to make.” Now, he’s running as an anti-abortion candidate and the Christian Civic League of Maine deems him “pro-life.”

When Merrill asked Moody about this change, he said his “personal stance” has always been “pro-life.” That’s the story that he has been telling throughout the campaign, but it does obscure the fact that he was a pro-choice candidate — as far as policy goes — in 2010.

Mayhew made a final pitch to Gov. Paul LePage’s voters, punching hard at an often-asked question about how the candidates differ from the governor. That’s a question that Mayhew didn’t answer in the WGME/Bangor Daily News debate in May. She was more steadfast on Thursday, citing the state’s stronger financial position under LePage and hitting the “liberal media” for only focusing on negatives. Other candidates answered it at least to a basic degree.

There is a fight going for LePage’s core voters, particularly between Moody, who has hired many of the governor’s key strategists, and Mayhew, who rolled out a slate of endorsements from current and former LePage administration officials last week. Mason’s base is in Maine’s evangelical Christian community, which helped decide the party’s 2016 presidential caucuses.

There are no real moderates in the field, but it seems that Mason and Fredette would govern most moderately. Very little separates any of these candidates on policy, from taxes to welfare to gun rights and beyond. But Mason and Fredette were the only ones to name Democrats that they have worked well with in Augusta. Mason said he disagreed with LePage on the governor’s reticence to expand access to an opioid overdose antidote.

While Moody and Mayhew rejected the scientific consensus that human activities are largely responsible for climate change, Mason and Fredette acknowledged that humans are at least partially responsible. We’ll track any last-minute attacks over the weekend.

The Fiddlehead Focus/St. John Valley Times is pleased to feature content from our sister company, Bangor Daily News. To read the rest of “Republicans who want LePage’s job jockey for his voters in final debate before primary,” an article by contributing Bangor Daily News staff writer Michael Shepherd, please follow this link to the BDN online.

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