Giant slaying is a tough business, just ask independent candidate for the U.S. Senate Max Linn, who introduced himself to voters during Friday night’s News Center debate as the modern day equivalent of David vs. twin Goliaths. Oddly enough, it was the independent candidates who made the first in a series of match-offs between contenders in one of the country’s tightest Senate races an enjoyable listen.

Best performance overall goes to another independent, Lisa Savage, whom Sen. Susan Collins agreed with at least twice during the hour-long debate. Savage’s answers were tight and she gave the best sense of being “in touch” with voters of anyone on the stage. As a conservative, many of Savage’s positions are antithetical to anything I believe could actually work, but she sounded so reasonable.

The giants, as Linn called them, Collins and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, stuck to scripted campaign messaging. When you pay tens of millions of dollars to hammer in just a few arguments, it makes little sense to talk about anything else. Still, it sounded like both were reading from their own ads at times. But their attacks on one another gave a sense of where they see the battle lines.

Gideon went on stage with a mission: tie Collins to Trump. She asked the senator whom she would vote for as president, and Collins employed an artful dodge that highlighted her statewide bus tour during which not a single Mainer, she said, needed any help deciding the top of the ticket. Throughout the back and forth, Gideon repeatedly accused the Republican senator of being unable to stand up to the president, implicitly reminding of her votes to confirm Bret Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and acquit Trump of impeachment charges.

Collins countered by asking Gideon if she would have voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts, which caught the younger woman off guard and saying she’d need time to study the issue. This of course is funny since Roberts has been presiding over the high court for nearly two decades; if Gideon hasn’t formed an opinion on this, where else is she without fixed views?

Even though Gideon may have a few points' advantage over Collins in recent polls (an AARP survey reported by the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday showed them in a virtual dead heat), the onus was still on her to deliver a memorable blow or two in the first debate, and if she did, I missed it. The challenge for Collins was to show — without appearing to be arrogant — that she’s actually taken concrete steps to address many of the problems others are talking about in the abstract. How effective she was at this remains to be seen.

Would there have been more sparks between the two “giants” if the moderators hadn’t had to spend so much time trying to keep Linn on topic? I just Googled him in the hopes of taking a look at this “never before seen in American politics” website (to which he referred incessantly), but the first page of search results was all about whether he was dropping out of the race. Perhaps SEO has something to do with why his fabled site has not yet been seen.

Getting on the debate stage as an independent is no small feat. I fought for this in Maryland on behalf of a non-aligned candidate only to have Hurricane Sandy cancel us out just as soon as we’d gotten the big fish to agree to share the stage with us. Hopefully in future debates, we’ll see more interaction between the main contenders.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.