The 120-seat University of Maine Hutchinson Center auditorium was standing room only Jan. 21 for a forum featuring five Democratic challengers for the U.S. House seat from Maine's 2nd District.

The event, hosted by Indivisible Waldo, didn't reveal strong differences among the candidates, but it painted a clear picture of the progressive platform going into an election against two-term incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Seated behind a sign reading "We have the power. Let's turn Maine solid blue," Lucas St. Clair, Jared Golden, Jonathan Fulford, Craig Olson and Tim Rich fielded questions on health care, campaign finance, gun regulation, women's rights, economic development and other topics. A sixth Democrat, Philip Cleaves Jr., did not attend.

Among the group, only Golden and Olson have held elected office. Golden, a former active-duty Marine from Lewiston, is assistant majority leader in the Maine House of Representatives. Olson, an antique bookseller, served three years as a selectman in his hometown of Islesboro.

Fulford, a builder from Monroe, has run twice for state Senate from Waldo County, losing both times in tight races to Sen. Michael Thibodeau. Asked during the forum what he had learned from those past experiences, Fulford laughed and said, "A lot." He went on to say that he now understands what it's like to go up against a powerful Republican machine. And it made clear to him that a populist economic message and single-payer health care resonate with poorer communities.

In a separate question about accepting PAC money, Fulford, who objected in his last Senate bid to an influx of "dark money" support from a third-party PAC, said he would take money only from a PAC that was funded 90-percent or more by individual donations.

Golden said he has raised more than $300,000 during the current race from individual contributions. Rich, a restaurant owner from Bar Harbor, argued that the influence of the party at the national level on the state primary is a bigger concern right now. The comment was a reference to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruiting Golden to challenge Poliquin.

St. Clair, son of Burt's Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby and head of the group credited with the creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in 2016, said Democrats "aren't the target audience" for corporate donations, but they will have to muster grassroots support to contend with that influence from the other side.

On the heels of women's marches around the country, all five candidates gave unqualified support to the advancement of women's rights and representation. St. Clair appeared to make a minor misstep when he framed gun traditions in the context of "grandfathers, fathers and sons." A call of "whoa!" and murmurs from the audience, prompted him to add grandmothers, mothers and daughters, with the aside that his own daughter hadn't taken to the shotgun as eagerly as he had at the same age.

Asked if they would call themselves feminists, Rich, St. Clair and Fulford said they would because of their view on gender equality, while Olson and Golden said they would leave it to women to decide whether they deserved the label.

Fulford noted that all of the candidates at the forum were men, adding that he would step aside if he were running against a qualified female candidate.

In questions posed to the group, the candidates often didn't so much appear to be carving out their own territory as building on the statements of the previous speaker.

Asked about their priorities for economic development, the candidates aggregated a list that included access to affordable education; embracing the immigrant population; investing in infrastructure, including transportation and broadband; making creative use of natural resources — Rich mentioned offshore wind and other technologies being developed at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center; universal head start; fair living wages; universal access to health care; supporting unions and other institutions of the middle class; seeking economic opportunities in combating climate change; and creating a fair system of taxation in which the wealthy pay their fair share.

Fulford, who happened to be last in the rotation for that particular question, said he liked what he was hearing from the others.

"If I don't win, I'm glad this is the thing we've got going," he said.