Maine’s five candidates for governor debated job creation, education, health care and the size of government in a spirited debate televised live from USM Monday evening.

The debate came two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, which promises to be a close fight with a Rasmussen poll showing Republican Paul LePage at 35 percent, slightly ahead of Democrat Libby Mitchell with 32 percent and Independent Eliot Cutler with 21 percent.

The three front runners were also joined by Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, both independents. The Rasmussen poll showed 6 percent favoring a candidate besides Mitchell, LePage or Cutler, and 6 percent were undecided.

The debate, moderated by WMTW-8 anchor Shannon Moss, featured topics ranging from education to health care to the economy. All of the candidates criticized Maine’s business climate, but each suggested different ways of bringing businesses and jobs to the state.

Mitchell stressed the importance of an educated workforce. “We need 40,000 people in Maine with degrees beyond high school in the next ten years,” Mitchell said. “We are in a new economy, and the old skills simply won’t cut it.”

LePage in turn took a strong stance against the current state of affairs, pointing to statistics showing Maine’s poor business performance. “In the state of Maine, we are dead last in overall business climate,” said LePage.

The candidates were asked four questions by the moderator. Each was allowed to respond, and then to rebut their opponents. After the main questions were asked, Moss read several questions picked from Channel 8’s viewers.

Additionally, USM senior Josh Wheelock addressed the candidates’ resolve to keep Maine college graduates in the state, asking how exactly they planned to make this happen.

Cutler promised to reduce spending and invest in education by merging the state university system and the community college systems, while Scott promised an agricultural system that would employ high- and low-tech jobs alike. LePage proposed a five-year high school program from which students would graduate with an associate’s degree.

Many USM students attended the debate, including Kyle Cronin, a senior. Cronin, who said he didn’t know much about the race before the debate, said he found it informative, and was glad to have had the opportunity to see the candidates at USM.

“It’s hard to decide [about the candidates] by just seeing polls and road signs,” Cronin said.

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