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Democratic U.S. Sen. candidate calls for debates ahead of June state primary

Ross LaJeunesse is calling for debates with his three Democratic candidate opponents ahead of the June 9 primary; some candidates are on board.
Credit: AP
Ross LaJeunesse, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, speaks at the opening of his campaign headquarters, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Biddeford, Maine. LaJeunesse is the former head of international relations for Google. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine — As Mainers headed to the polls to cast their votes in the presidential primary on Super Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Democratic candidate Ross LaJeunesse was looking ahead to the state primary in June. On Tuesday, LaJeunesse posted a video in conjunction with a six-figure ad buy calling for debates with his fellow Democratic candidates in all 16 Maine counties ahead of the primary.

“Voters deserve to hear our ideas for getting Maine and the country back on track,” LaJeunesse said in the post, “and they deserve to hear those ideas directly from us.”

There are currently no official debates scheduled ahead of the primary. "Voters deserve better," LaJeunesse told NEWS CENTER Maine.

“Mainers deserve a Senator who shows up for them. One of the reasons Susan Collins is the most unpopular Senator in the United States is that she has become a career politician. She hasn’t shown up for a public town hall meeting in years.” Ross said. “As Democrats, we can't criticize her and then do the same thing. Voters deserve to hear our ideas for getting Maine and the country back on track, and they deserve to hear those ideas directly from us.”

RELATED: Democrat looking to unseat Sen. Collins wins key endorsement

LaJeunesse, a former Google executive, is one of four Democratic candidates looking to unseat Republican Susan Collins. The other candidates are Maine state House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport, progressive activist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, and defense attorney Bre Kidman of Saco.

Credit: Photos AP; bottom left: Courtesy Bre Kidman
The Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, clockwise from top left: Ross LaJeunesse, Sara Gideon, Betsy Sweet, and Bre Kidman.

RELATED: Sara Gideon reports $3.5 million raised in fourth quarter, still trails Collins

The candidates have only appeared together on stage once before at a forum hosted by the Maine Teen Advocacy Coalition in November. 

LaJeunesse told NEWS CENTER Maine that the Maine Democratic Party would be a "great convener" to make the debates happen, but thinks it doesn't have to be them who organize it.

"My hope is to get all of [the Democratic candidates] to agree to do this...and then we can work together," he said. Sweet said she supports the idea for debates. 

In a statement, Sweet said "How we run is how we govern, people deserve to know where all the candidates are on the issues. We owe it to Mainers to have as many debates, with all of us on one stage, as we can between now and June."

Kidman tweeted LaJeunesse Tuesday, saying they've "been in" for having debates. 

"The lack of debates and forums....has been an ongoing source of frustration," Kidman told NEWS CENTER Maine. "We have been asking for debates and forums from the very beginning because we are clear about what we stand for, and we’re excited to let unfiltered questions get right to the heart of our ideas."

"We believe that an election is a job interview, that voters are the ones to hire us, and that we all deserve to be represented by people who are ready to stop play-acting politics and start showing up for Maine," Kidman said.

Kidman, LaJeunesse, and Sweet are participating in a forum on March 13 at Limerick Old Brick Town Hall at 6:30 p.m.

That leaves Gideon. In a statement, Maeve Coyle, Sara Gideon for Maine communications director said: “Sara's made hosting 'Suppers with Sara' a focus of our campaign, going to every corner of the state to answer questions from and have conversations with hundreds of Mainers. She looks forward to debates in the primary and against Susan Collins, and will continue to be in communities across the state to hear directly from the voters whose support she's working hard to earn.” 

Gideon remains the likely front runner and recently reported raising $3.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2019.

This story has been updated to correct Bre Kidman's pronoun. 

The Maine Democratic Party could not immediately comment on the prospect of debates.

RELATED: Mainers will have an opportunity to hear from the four Democrats vying for Sen. Collins' seat

RELATED: Six months out from Maine senate primary, campaigning is in full swing

RELATED: Super Tuesday 2020 live updates: Voting underway in 14 states

RELATED: Everything you need to know about the Maine March 3 primary

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