U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (left) and State Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, a candidate for the 2nd District Congressional seat. Credit: Micky Bedell | BDN; Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Good morning from Augusta. The race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District appears to be tightening, but the remainder of the campaign will not include direct back-and-forth between the two major-party candidates.

The second and final debate involving the frontrunners was not unlike the first on substance. Notably, there was less name-calling in the WAGM studio in Presque Isle on Tuesday between Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and his Democratic challenger Jared Golden than in the Oct. 8 debate, when their squabbling was interrupted more than once by the moderator.

During Tuesday’s debate, the two-term incumbent sought to spotlight his political and experiential superiority over Golden and independent candidates Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar by repeating — sometimes verbatim — phrases he deployed during the first debate.

“I’m the only person on this stage who has 35 years of job creation experience,” he said, and “I’m the only person on this stage who has a proven history of standing up for our 2nd Amendment rights.”

Poliquin didn’t call Golden a “young radical” who embraces “a socialist agenda” like he repeatedly did last week, but he did refer to the other candidates at one point as “fairly extreme in their views,” after they responded to a question about how to support businesses that seasonally employ immigrants.

“We have a broken immigration system,” Golden said, one that “incentivizes illegal immigration” and “encourages the import of cheaper labor.” In order to compete with low-wage seasonal workers, American wages need to be higher, he said.

Poliquin aimed to portray Golden — and to a lesser extent Bond and Hoar — as outside the mainstream in a district that has long valued moderation in its congressional representatives and has tilted Republican during the past four years. Instead of trying to affix extremist labels onto Golden, the Republican incumbent amped up a theme from his advertising — that Golden would be a foil for out-of-state liberals.

Though Golden, the assistant Maine House majority leader, has said since the primary that he would not vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to return as House speaker if Democrats win the majority, Poliquin doubled down his efforts Tuesday to link Golden to Pelosi.

Mentioning the attack ads linking the two, Poliquin said, “She must have looked at his voting record and said, ‘This is exactly the sort of person we want down in Washington.’”

Golden waited until Poliquin made the first jab before he replied, “Bruce seems to have some strange obsession with Nancy Pelosi. I don’t support her agenda.”

On the issues, Poliquin continued to defend his votes on health care. He framed his vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act as a move to replace it with a market-based alternative — but was vague when asked about his plan to make health care more affordable for Mainers. He dismissed as too expensive Golden’s Medicare-for-all approach, which would lower the eligibility age, allowing people 55 and older to buy into the plan.

Candidates were asked about school shootings and how best to work with gun owners and those wanting to limit guns. Golden, who supports prohibiting people who pose a serious threat to themselves or others from owning firearms, called for a tightening of the background check system. Poliquin then referred to Golden’s low rating from local firearm organizations and the National Rifle Association, and said, “That’s no way to protect our kids.”

Golden may be gaining in his bid to knock off the incumbent, but they won’t share a stage again. The Democrat took the overall fundraising lead in the race as of September’s end and is leading a poll being conducted by The New York Times and Siena College, though it is within the error margin and pollsters have only talked to 373 likely voters out of a targeted 500. So, things are likely to change as it moves forward tonight. We’ll cover the poll when it’s done.

Golden, Bond and Hoar will share a stage on Oct. 28 at a debate hosted by Maine Public that Poliquin never put on his two-debate schedule. The rest of their battle will be fought over the airwaves — where at least $14.8 million has been committed to ads — and through the media.

In other debate news …

The four candidates for governor will participate in their first televised debate this evening. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce will host the 7 p.m. forum, which will air live from the Augusta Civic Center on WCSH and WLBZ, the NBC affiliates in Portland and Bangor, respectively. The four candidates — Republican businessman Shawn Moody, Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes and independent consultant Alan Caron — are confirmed for the debate. We’ll have coverage tonight.

And mark your calendars for Tuesday, Oct. 23, when the Bangor Daily News will team up with Bangor ABC and Fox affiliate WVII and the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce for a debate to be televised from the Cross Insurance Center. For ticketing information, click here. Suggested debate questions can be sent to debates@bangordailynews.com.

Reading list

— Voters in three Maine counties could elect a district attorney who would be barred from doing the job. A hearing on whether Seth Carey, the Republican nominee in those counties, will be disbarred or face other punishment for alleged sexual assault is scheduled for Nov. 14, more than a week after the election and less than two months before district attorneys are to be sworn into office. To serve or be elected district attorney, Maine law requires that one be a member of the state bar. Carey faces further disciplinary action after Justice Thomas Warren on Sept. 21 ruled that there’s enough evidence to believe that Carey assaulted and had illegal sexual contact with a woman who rented his Rumford home. Carey denies the allegations, and no charges have been filed. He is challenging incumbent Democrat Andrew Robinson.

— The FBI continues to investigate a suspicious letter sent to the Bangor home of Maine’s senior U.S. senator. A spokeswoman for the agency said Tuesday that preliminary tests on the letter, which its writer said was contaminated with ricin, indicated no signs of public risk. After a crime lab team checked the property, Sen. Susan Collins and her husband, Tom Daffron, were able to stay in the home, indicating that there was no ricin on the letter.

— Maine electricity customers continued to pay more last year for energy purchased through private suppliers. By choosing the standard offer instead of what was aggressively marketed to them by private vendors such as Electricity Maine, customers could have spent $16 million less on electricity last year. The latest figures add to a growing premium that Maine customers have paid to retail electricity suppliers that have most often provided identical mixtures of power generation as the state-regulated standard offer. From 2012 to 2017, Maine residential customers have spent $95.3 million more with private sellers, a market dominated by Electricity Maine, when compared with the standard offer, according to a Bangor Daily News analysis of federal energy data.

Dealin’ like Dylan

With less than three weeks to go until Election Day, your nerves may be frayed if you’re running for office or just enduring the steady stream of political ads. (If you’re a reporter covering these events, you may just be annoyed by hearing the same arguments over and over again.)

To soothe the candidates, we have this ditty from Rep. Paul Stearns, R-Guilford, about door-knocking set to the tune of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” of course.

We knew the former superintendent was a thoughtful source on education issues, but he also has a solid voice and looks good in a hat. He can put that non-political endorsement on his next palm card. Here’s your bonus soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.