BANGOR, Maine — U.S. Rep. Tom Allen of Portland rallied supporters Saturday afternoon in the basement of a local church and urged each of the 80 or so people in attendance to step out of their comfort zones and persuade five people to vote for him on Election Day.
Allen is running against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, who is seeking re-election.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, considered by fair trade activists and union members to be a champion of their issues, spent the day campaigning with Allen, a Democrat who has represented Maine’s 1st Congres-sional District for more than a decade.
Brown and Allen’s appearance at Hammond Street Congregational Church in Bangor, rented by Allen’s campaign, was their third stop of the day to discuss free trade, health care, the Iraq war and other issues. The pair spoke in Biddeford and Lewiston on Saturday morning before heading north.
Peter Phillips, who attended the Bangor rally, said that although he had planned to support Allen before the event, he didn’t know much about the Portland native.
“What do you think this half of the state thinks about you?” Phillips, 59, of Bangor and a Vietnam veteran, asked the candidate.
Allen smiled and said that in spite of the television ads that his campaign has run in northern Maine, voters north of Waterville still seemed to be a bit suspicious of his southern Maine roots.
“Portland is not Massachusetts,” he said. “I’m a seventh-generation Mainer. I trimmed pine trees for 15 cents a tree when I was in high school. With my parents, I camped and fished all over the state and we did the same with our daughters. I know the state from one end to the other.”
Phillips, who actively opposes the Iraq war, said he got to know Allen a little bit better at the event.
“I liked the idea that he was not bashing Republicans,” he said as it ended. “It’s refreshing not to hear that.”
Steven Butterfield, 25, of Bangor is taking a break from his job as a union organizer to run for the Maine House of Representatives. A Democrat, he is running for the seat now held by Pat Blanchette, also a Democrat, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
“I came today,” he said after the rally, “because I think if we don’t elect Tom Allen, people like me who come from the middle class and the working class won’t be represented in Washington. Susan Collins tries to sell herself as a moderate but when I look at her record, I don’t see it. He represents the middle class that I come from.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown urged Allen’s supporters to tell family and friends that Collins has supported the policies of President Bush 81 percent of the time.
“Then, when she comes back to Bangor,” the senator said, “she brags about the other 19 percent of the time. … I think you should tell people that if they support the economic policies of George Bush, they should vote for Susan Collins.”
A native of Mansfield, Ohio, Brown was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1993 and to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving in the Ohio Legislature and as secretary of state. He, along with Allen, has opposed trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Act. Both legislators have sponsored a new bill known as the Trade Reform Accountability, Development and Employment Act which calls for the review and renegotiation of existing trade agreements as well as a new process to negotiate trade deals.
Collins has been on a two-week bus tour of the state that she kicked off on Labor Day in Bangor. Over the weekend she campaigned in North Yarmouth, the final air show at the Brunswick Naval Air Station, and the Oxford Fair.
A spokesman for her campaign criticized Allen’s decision to bring Brown to Maine.
“Why is Tom Allen inviting someone from Ohio here to talk about free trade agreement when, clearly, the number one concern for us Mainers right now is the high cost of energy?” Kevin Kelley said Sunday. “That’s why Senator Collins voted to stay in Washington and spend August working to address the crisis. Tom Allen voted to go home and campaign.”
Although Allen and Brown’s sweep through the state was a campaign event, organizations that oppose NAFTA and similar agreements sent out a flurry of press releases about Brown’s visit. Representatives of labor unions in Greater Bangor and the Maine Fair Trade Campaign, a coalition of 50 groups that supports fair trade based in Portland, attended.
Allen, according to the MFTC, has “long been a proponent of fair trade policy.” In addition to being an original co-sponsor of the TRADE Act, Allen voted against the Peru Free Trade Agreement, the Fast Track and has been a vocal opponent of the pending Colombia, Panama and South Korea Free Trade deals, which are nearly identical to NAFTA, the group said.
“When it comes to trade agreements,” Kelley said, “Senator Collins has always put Maine workers first. She has supported trade agreements, such as the Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, that encourage innovation, expansion and job creation for Maine-based companies, and she has opposed other agreements, such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
“She believes,” he continued, “that every trade agreement should include strong international labor, environmental and human rights standards, but she is concerned that a renegotiation of every free trade agreement that has already passed Congress, and is already being implemented, might hurt Maine companies that are already exporting their goods.”