Mainers give convention high marks

Posted Aug. 28, 2008, at 9:44 p.m.

DENVER — Members of the state’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention say they are energized by their experience this week and ready to head home and campaign hard for Barack Obama.

“John McCain cannot be president … Maine can’t take it,” state Rep. Hannah Pingree told her fellow delegates who were gathered for breakfast on Thursday before heading to INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium for Obama’s acceptance speech and the final evening of the convention.

Former Gov. Joe Brennan, a guest of the delegation, also addressed the group and said it had been “a great” convention. “We go out of here very positively.”

Much attention was paid heading into the convention to Sen. Hillary Clinton and her supporters and to the perceived rift between the Clinton and Obama camps. But rousing speeches of endorsement by Sen. Clinton on Tuesday and former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday put that concern to rest for the Maine delegates.

Brennan called both of the Clintons’ speeches “grand slam home runs.”

“I thought her speech showed a lot of courage. It showed a lot of eloquence and it really made the case for the Democratic Party,” said Joseph Baldacci, a Bangor attorney and Clinton delegate.

“I came in with relatively low expectations,” admitted state Democratic Party chairman John Knutson, “but every day kept getting better and better.”

Gov. John Baldacci, who was originally a Clinton supporter, said he felt the way the Obama campaign ran the convention was very “inclusive and respectful” of Clinton and her supporters.

“We are ready to unite and support and work hard for Obama,” said Betty Johnson of Lincolnville, a Clinton delegate who served at the convention as a liaison between the Clinton organization and the Maine delegation.

Brennan said the Bush Administration’s tax cuts for the wealthy and war in Iraq are two of the biggest reasons why Obama and U.S. Rep. Tom Allen of Maine, who is running for U.S. Senate, must be elected in November.

“Tom Allen had the judgment to vote against the war in Iraq; his opponent voted for it,” Brennan said, referring to incumbent U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“This country is not headed upward; it’s headed downward. But I believe Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Tom Allen can turn that around,” said Brennan, who received a standing ovation from the delegates.

Also attending the convention were 10 members of the Maine College Democrats. Chris Van Alstyne, president of the group who attends Colby College in Waterville, said, “This has been a tremendously exciting experience. We’re going to bring all of this energy back to Maine.”

Throughout the fall, he said the group will be registering students to vote on college campuses around the state and volunteering for Democratic campaigns.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get Tom Allen elected,” he said. “It’s about time we said goodbye to Susan Collins.”

A number of Maine delegates said they were especially moved by the appearance and speech on Monday night of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who is suffering from brain cancer. Brennan called it “a gutsy performance.”

“The love and admiration in that hall for that man … you’ve just got to love him. This guy is an icon,” said Knutson.

But despite all of the excitement of the convention, many delegates said they were pretty tired after a long week of early morning and late night activities. Knutson admitted to being “exhausted” after the whirlwind week.

Linda Killian is a professor of journalism and the director of Boston University’s Washington Center. She is working on a book on the Democratic Party and is currently a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

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