Candidates tout personal qualities at GOP convention

Posted May 08, 2010, at 6 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Confetti, a steel drum band, political signs by the truckload and color-coordinated wardrobes. Statistics, personal stories and quotes from literary titans.

Those were the tools and strategies used by the seven Republican gubernatorial candidates Saturday as they rode a wave of enthusiasm for conservative ideals at the Republican State Convention held at the Portland Expo.

In a rare opportunity to mass-communicate to a friendly audience without the restriction of one- or two-minute time limits, each candidate laid out his case to become the GOP nominee during the June 8 primary.

The convention floor speeches highlighted that most of the candidates have the same goals for the state, such as reducing taxes, overhauling the regulatory environment to become more friendly to businesses, and shrinking the size of government. Rather than rehash similarities, the candidates focused instead on personal qualities they believe make them the ideal chief executive.

Steve Abbott, who has served as a lawyer and as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ chief of staff for the past 12 years, emphasized his understanding of how the legislative process works best, as well as his Maine roots.

Abbott began his remarks by comparing Maine to Louisiana, which he said are the only two states that have not seen economic growth in the past few years.

“Louisiana had Hurricane Katrina,” said Abbott. “We’ve had 30 years of Democrats running the show in Maine.”

Abbott vowed to shrink the state’s government.

“We need to move as many jobs as possible from the government to the private sector,” he said. “If you can find it in the Yellow Pages, then the government probably shouldn’t be doing it.”

Matt Jacobson touted his military background and executive experience running a railroad and recruiting businesses to the state under his firm Maine and Co.

“I’m the only candidate who can say he has recruited 2,000 jobs to the state of Maine,” he said. “I know how to do it and nobody else does. It’s time for a leader in Augusta, and I’m ready.”

Les Otten, who is a businessman best known for his involvement with the Sunday River ski area and the Boston Red Sox, said his experience running a business against Maine’s tax burden and regulatory environment make him uniquely suited to attract businesses and create jobs. Part of his “Jobs Plan” is to reduce government spending by reducing the number of people who receive social services.

“Maine cannot bear the stigma of being a sanctuary state for those seeking welfare,” he said. “It’s time for the Republican Party to lead again in Maine. The Democrats trust the government more than they do the people. As Republicans, we trust the people more than we do the government.”

Peter Mills, a lawyer and military veteran from Somerset County who has served in the Legislature for the past 16 years, framed that experience as a strength while other candidates have called it a liability for Mills.

“Some people say that anyone who is part of the Legislature is part of the problem,” he told the hundreds of people on the convention floor. “That is an insult to all the Republicans who have served in the Legislature. I have always fought for what I thought was right.”

Mills said that though at times he has voted against measures supported by other Republicans, “I have always fought for what I thought was right. Nominate me as your candidate and I will win this November.”

Paul LePage, who is the mayor of Waterville and an executive with the Maine retail chain Marden’s, said his experience leading both a government and successful business makes him well-suited for the nomination. In an emotional presentation, LePage spoke of persevering though life after an abusive childhood.

“I am the only candidate who was born into the welfare system and who escaped it,” said LePage. “I will always place your individual liberties ahead of any Augusta bureaucrat.”

LePage said there are 10 two-letter words that made him enter the race and propelled him during the campaign: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Bill Beardsley, who has held a range of government positions in his career, served as president of what is now Husson University for 23 years. He said his understanding of the issues facing Maine and his track record of saving the university from the verge of bankruptcy would make him a strong contender in the race.

“As your governor I would reduce the footprint of state government on your lives,” he said. “I will champion a prosperous vision for the state of Maine.”

Bruce Poliquin, who served for most of his career as an executive in an investment firm, said that executive experience would be crucial to solving Maine’s difficult problems.

“This race is not about who loves Maine the most,” he said. “It is about who has the management experience. I’ll bring a new, positive attitude to the Blaine House.”

Also at the convention Saturday, a group of Knox County conservatives succeeded in tossing the old platform and adopting a new one.

Steve Dyer of Rockland said the original platform, the same one adopted in 2008, was too vague. He says the new one reaffirms a pledge to the U.S. Constitution and the Maine Constitution — not any specific party.

The platform was created by a team of 12 Republicans, some of whom also attend Tea Party events. They said they want to push the party back to its core values.

The Republican State Convention, which ran Friday and Saturday, brought about 1,800 registered Republicans to the Expo and included a one-hour debate among the candidates that was televised live Friday night.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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