Fired-up GOP kicks off state convention in Maine

Posted May 07, 2010, at 3:02 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Enthusiastic Republicans sensing opportunity by Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts and voter discontent over the economy and the Democratic-backed health care overhaul gathered Friday for their state convention with a renewed sense of optimism about gains in November.

Exhorting the crowd, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe urged party loyalists not to squander what she described as “the best opportunity in years to send a Republican governor to Augusta and to elect Republican majorities in the state House, state Senate and the halls of Congress.”

“The people of Maine and America are with us. The momentum is on our side and without question we are going to move heaven and earth to be triumphant in November,” said Snowe, whose husband, John McKernan, was the last Republican to serve as Maine governor, leaving office in 1995.

At least 1,500 party loyalists were attending the state GOP convention, including supporters of seven gubernatorial hopefuls vying for attention before next month’s primary.

Republicans hope to capitalize on voter frustration as they seek to rebuild their numbers in the Legislature, where they’ve long been relegated to minority status

Highlights on both days of the convention at the Portland Expo include appearances by seven gubernatorial candidates, who are seeking to make an impression before the June 8 primary.

The candidates were to appear at a debate Friday night after a traditional New England bean supper in which conventioneers can wash down their food with Moxie, the quirky soda that hails from Maine. The candidates get a second chance to sway attendees when they address the convention Saturday.

The strong field of gubernatorial contenders — Les Otten, Bruce Poliquin, Steve Abbott, Peter Mills, Matt Jacobsen and Paul LePage — and the fact that the party is fielding candidates in all legislative races except for one has the party fired up, said Ruth Summers, co-chairwoman of the convention.

Sen. Susan Collins said Democrats have set the stage for Republican victories because the Democratic-controlled Legislature hasn’t cut spending or improved the business climate.

“Maine desperately needs a new direction in Augusta. Decades of Democrats controlling the State House have led our once-prosperous state into a prolonged period of economic stagnation. Overtaxation and over-regulation have created a hostile climate for businesses to create jobs,” she said.

All of the gubernatorial candidates had booths set up. So did the party’s congressional hopefuls — Dean Scontras in the 1st Congressional District and Jason Levesque in the 2nd — both of whom are unchallenged within the party.

The building, home to the Red Claws minor league basketball team, was bedecked in red, white and blue, and political signs and posters were plastered on the walls. Many in the energetic crowd rang bells.

There was no formal presence by the tea party movement, which contributed to Scott Brown’s upset in the Massachusetts Senate race. But they weren’t forgotten.

Andrew Ian Dodge, Maine coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, warned the GOP not to take the tea party movement for granted, as has happened in other states.

“The GOP is saying, ‘OK, you’ve had your fun, now sit down and shut up’ so we can prepare for November. A lot of Republicans don’t understand that the tea party movement is independent and that the people who’re involved aren’t voting along party lines,” he said.

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