BANGOR – The two challengers hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe took aim at the powerful Republican during a live televised debate Wednesday, criticizing her stance on the Iraq war and her reputation as a consensus building moderate.
“Senator Snowe’s votes for bullying other people are not votes of moderation, but votes for death,” independent candidate Bill Slavick said, referencing the senior senator’s 2002 support for the war with Iraq.
The war emerged as one of the most divisive topics of the hour-long debate at the Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s Bangor studio.
During the debate, Snowe defended her Iraq vote as well her reputation as a moderate. At one point, she asked her challengers how they would have voted on the war if they – like she – was presented with intelligence of an “imminent national threat.”
“When it comes to the security of our country, I would want to err on the side of caution,” Snowe, said, although acknowledging the intelligence later turned out to be an “epic failure.”
In response, Democrat Jean Hay Bright noted that Maine’s two Democratic congressmen at the time, U.S. Reps. Tom Allen and John Baldacci, voted to oppose the war with essentially the same information.
“It’s a matter of judgment and I don’t think Olympia Snowe has exhibited good judgment,” said Hay Bright, who, like Slavick, has made the Iraq conflict a central point of her campaign.
For her part, Snowe has stepped up her criticism of the administration’s strategy in Iraq in recent weeks. During the debate, she repeated her call for a change in course, saying that “staying the course is neither an option nor a plan.”
With less than two weeks before Election Day on Nov. 7, Snowe is considered a heavy favorite in the race against Slavick, a retired professor from Portland, and Hay Bright, an author and organic farmer from Dixmont.
One recent poll put Snowe 46 percentage points ahead of Hay Bright. Another poll released this week put Snowe’s approval rating at 76 percent, making her the most popular senator in the country.
Snowe’s popularity, pundits say, is due in part to her reputation as a moderate. Snowe stressed that reputation in her closing remarks, rattling off a list of issues – including stem cell research and tax cuts for the wealthy – on which she has differed with the president.
Hay Bright and Slavick, citing her vote for the war and stated support for a controversial military detainee bill, both say that centrist reputation is undeserved.
Wednesday’s debate – the first televised debate in the contest – touched on many of the same issues as one held earlier this week at Colby College. The candidates sparred on abortion rights, the treatment of U.S. prisoners of war and whether Congress should pursue the impeachment of President Bush.
“I think the American people want accountability down there,” said Hay Bright, who, like Slavick, favors starting an investigation into impeachment. Hay Bright cited Bush’s admitted use of warrantless wiretaps as one potential offense.
“I think this country needs to be brought together, not embarking on divisions. and I don’t hear that from my opponents,” Snowe said, who opposes the start of impeachment proceedings.
The MPBN debate will be rebroadcast today at 1 p.m. on Maine Public Radio. It will also be rebroadcast on Maine Public Television on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m., and Nov. 5 at 3 p.m.
The three U.S. Senate hopefuls also will debate live tonight at 7 p.m. on WLBZ-TV2 in Bangor and WCSH-TV6 in Portland.
Wednesday’s MPBN debate was hosted by chief political correspondent Fred Bever.
For more information about all of the candidates, visit bangordailynews.com and click on the Elections 2006 section.