BANGOR, Maine — Stressing a return to traditional party values of smaller government, lower taxes and job creation, area Republicans turned out in force Saturday afternoon to attend the Penobscot County caucus at the Husson University student union.
Rick Johnston, the county chairman of the Republican Party, said he was excited by the energy — and the message — of the caucus, which attracted about 200 people.
“My enthusiasm is in high gear,” he said. “I see a very highly energized base. Republicans are not just saying no. There are alternatives.”
Several of the candidates for governor gave brief speeches, including Orono native Steve Abbott, former Husson University President Bill Beardsley, entrepreneur Les Otten of Greenwood, businessman Bruce Poliquin of Georgetown and social conservative Martin Vachon of Mariaville.
Candidates Peter Mills of Cornville, Matthew Jacobson of Cumberland and Paul Lepage of Waterville were attending other county caucuses and were represented by people who spoke on their behalf.
Many noted the changing political landscape that is bringing new — and younger — people to events such as the caucus. They also mentioned Scott Brown, the Republican who won Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, and although no candidate named the Tea Party movement, it seemed to be a subtext of many in the race.
“There’s a miracle of red moving up the East Coast,” Otten said to eager applause. “I’m convinced we are going to see it again in November in the state of Maine.”
Residents of 23 Penobscot County towns gathered in groups after the speeches to take care of party business, and the Bangor GOP caucus conducted a straw poll among its members. Abbott, now a resident of Portland, handily won the poll with 24 votes.
“I think it shows the strength of the campaign,” said Abbott, Sen. Susan Collins’ former chief of staff.
Waterville Mayor Paul Lepage took second place with 10 votes, Beardsley and Mills received three votes each, and Poliquin got two votes. Otten, Jacobson and Vachon received none.
Stacey Guerin of Glenburn, who also is a candidate for the Maine State House of Representatives in District 22, said she was impressed by what she heard from the gubernatorial candidates.
“They’re good speakers and strong conservatives,” she said. “We do not want government growing and growing.”
After the speeches, Kay Lebowitz gave a plea for the party to unite behind whoever wins the primary.
“Republicans are all very independent. We tend to say and do what we think,” she said. “But when it comes to November, be sure to be united. Stick together. Stand together. Work together. Because if you don’t we’ll get those [Democrats]. And they love to put tax dollars in their hands.”