Dale Crafts (left) and Jared Golden are pictured in August 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The two candidates in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District clashed on the future of health care and split on the issue of state and local aid in the next coronavirus stimulus bill in their first debate on Thursday night.

The contest between freshman U.S. Rep. Jared Golden and former state Rep. Dale Crafts of Lisbon in the swing district in Maine’s northern population half has been drowned out by a high-profile U.S. Senate race. Golden, a Democrat, has opened up a wide polling and fundraising lead over Crafts in the race to date.

It means that the pressure is on Crafts with less than three weeks until Election Day. He has aligned himself with President Donald Trump, who has endorsed him and won the district handily in 2016, while Golden has gathered cross-party support in the district, with 22 percent of Republicans supporting him in a poll released Thursday.

That was evident in how the incumbent has changed his approach on health care. Golden co-sponsored a 2019 bill that would have created a “road map” to Medicare for All that never made it to the floor. He has backed off from that kind of a measure, now favoring a buy-in option similar to that proposed by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Golden focused largely during the debate, hosted by WABI and WAGM, on efforts he has supported to cap prescription drug costs for seniors, and rebuked Crafts for wanting to get rid of the Affordable Care Act because it is the law that protects people with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage.

“It was not affordable for them to carry insurance,” Golden said of the time before the law.

Crafts maintained that he supports protecting people with those conditions and the free-market style of health insurance he supports is the best route to more affordable insurance.

“Government-run health care is not the answer,” he said.

The candidate’s stances on health care mirror arguments made the first time Golden ran for Congress, but the context has changed. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in a case challenging the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act in November, which could result in the act being thrown out altogether.

The two also broke on what any future federal coronavirus aid should look like, although they both agreed the conversations around relief have been too partisan. Crafts largely supported the first aid package passed by Congress in March, but has spoken out against the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits.

He said any future aid should be focused on additional support for businesses and not bailing out “these failed states that have not run their own regular business, their state budgets.”

Golden disagreed, saying that aid is critical for state and local governments to survive. He said he agreed with the $250 billion the White House had proposed for those entities, saying it would be enough to get through the winter, while supporting additional money for testing and vaccine distribution.

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