BY REBEKAH METZLER
LEWISTON, Maine — Enthusiasm at Maine’s largest annual Democratic Party gathering was stifled by the nation’s economic crisis.
More than 200 people gathered Saturday at the Lewiston Armory for the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, featuring speeches from the state’s top Democrats, but not Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who was supposed to be the guest speaker.
Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, remained in Washington on Saturday to deal with legislation to aid the country’s ailing financial sector.
Gov. John Baldacci, Democratic Senate candidate Tom Allen and congressional candidates Michael Michaud, running for re-election for the 2nd District, and Chellie Pingree, running for the 1st District, spoke somberly on issues ranging from the economy to energy independence.
“Our country needs us, not just as a party but as a people,” Baldacci said. “We know we can do better.”
Pingree spoke of a homeless shelter in Portland she recently visited that was “bursting at the seams” and attributed the overflow to Maine’s struggling economy.
Michaud pointed out Congress’ approval rating, which is at an all-time low.
“Some of it we brought on ourselves; some things are out of our control,” he said, alluding to the faltering economy.
Allen took a moment before delivering his stump speech to address the financial legislation being worked on by Congress over the weekend.
“This economy runs on two things: credit and confidence,” he said. “When you lose those, you’re done.”
Many top legislators in both parties, including Dodd and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, were working through the weekend in hopes of putting together a bill that will help keep the economy afloat.
Allen said he participated in a conference call with Democratic House leadership and said the situation “goes way beyond politics.”
“We’re working to make sure this [economy] keeps going,” Allen said. “It’s going to take a bipartisan effort and we take this very, very seriously.”
The candidates all praised Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, and sought to connect the bad economy to Republicans. Speakers also emphasized the importance of the election.
The night was capped off by Peter Chandler, head of Maine’s Democratic Coordinated Campaign, who lauded the success of his organization.
“We have 42 paid organizers and 10 support staff, the largest in Maine’s history,” he said. “We have 32 staffed field offices, with at least one in all 16 counties.”
Chandler said that for the first time since Ed Muskie was a Maine senator, there was a Democratic field office in Machias.
“And today, we knocked on 4,750 doors in Lewiston and Auburn,” he said.