PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — U.S. Rep. Tom Allen and Sen. Susan Collins stuck to familiar themes when they met Monday night to debate for the eighth time, at Presque Isle Middle School.

Allen, the Democratic challenger, said Collins has supported the policies of President Bush too frequently and told the live and televised audiences that a vote for him on Nov. 4 would be a vote for change.

Collins, the Republican incumbent, stressed her bipartisan accomplishments and painted her opponent as a partisan ideologue. What Congress needs, she said, is less partisanship.

“I believe there is too much harsh partisan rhetoric in Washington,” Collins said when responding to a question about funding for the States’ Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as SCHIP. She noted that the bill that created the program was co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The bill, which she supported, was approved in 1997 by a Republican-controlled Congress, she said.

“That is the kind of approach we need,” Collins said.

Allen stressed the need for a change in the Senate when he was asked about the potential for developing sustainable sources of energy such as wind power and biofuels in Aroostook County. He said that he supports the development of alternative energy, both to boost the country’s energy security and to help create jobs, but criticized Sen. Collins for supporting what he called the “Cheney Energy Bill” in 2005, which gave billions of dollars in tax breaks to the oil companies.

“We need change, fundamental change,” Allen said. “That was the wrong policy then and it’s the wrong policy now. We have to move to a much bolder and dramatic alternative.”

Collins responded that the 2005 energy bill contained several good measures, such as helping to provide energy relief to the Northeast, and that it was supported by 80 senators including Barack Obama and Joe Biden, both halves of the Democratic presidential ticket.

“Obviously, I’ve not been a rubber stamp for President Bush,” Collins said. “I voted against his last three budgets.”

When asked about providing federal support to help keep the economy afloat, Collins and Allen each said they support increasing Medicaid payments to states to help with health care costs. Collins also suggested spending $50 billion on infrastructure improvements nationwide to help create jobs and to invest in the future.

But the senator also warned about increasing taxes during the weak economy — a remark that Allen seemed to think was targeted at him.

“Let me be clear here,” Allen said. “Nobody here is arguing for an increase in taxes. I’m certainly not.”

Collins appeared to take another jab at Allen when talking about energy infrastructure. She said that all the wind power projects in the world won’t do Aroostook County and Maine any good unless the transmission lines that connect The County to the rest of the state are improved — a fact that she said some people from southern Maine don’t seem to understand.

Allen, recognizing that Collins was highlighting her native roots in Aroostook County, did not let the comment pass.

“This is one person from southern Maine who understands that new transmission lines are necessary,” he said. “That’s clearly a component of anything we do.”

In his closing remarks at the end of the hour-long debate, Allen said he believes that his policy positions will benefit Aroostook County, which he said he has visited frequently over the years. He made sure to compliment The County, too.

“It is a beautiful part of the world,” he said. “I believe you have something special.”

Collins, in her closing remarks, listed local facilities that have benefited from legislation she helped provide in the Senate, including the Smith & Wesson plant in Houlton, the National Weather Service station in Caribou and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Limestone. She said she spends every Christmas with her parents in Caribou, who she said taught her a good work ethic when she was young, and regularly visits an Aroostook County dentist.

“I put that work ethic to use every day in the U.S. Senate,” she said.

The debate, sponsored by Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development and Aroostook Partnership for Progress, is the only such meeting for the two candidates scheduled in Aroostook County or north of Brewer. It was televised on WAGM television.

The final two debates in the race will be televised this week in Portland. WCSH will be host to a debate at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Maine Public Broadcasting Network to another at 8 p.m. Thursday at the University of Southern Maine.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....