BANGOR, Maine — The upcoming presidential election is very important to Carrie Dwelley, 24, of Bangor.
It’s more important to her now than it was four years ago when she was still a student at the University of Maine, she said Sunday afternoon as the Democratic caucus got under way at the Bangor Civic Center.
“I’m an underemployed post-college graduate who wants to stay in Maine,” the political science major said. “Barack Obama needs four more years to get things done.”
Democrats around Maine gathered Sunday to caucus but there was little suspense about the outcome. Final tallies of how many people attended were not expected to be released by the Maine Democratic Party until Monday. Party officials, however, said about 9:30 p.m. Sunday that more than 4,500 Mainers turned out for the municipal caucuses, surpassing the 2010 caucus turnout by almost 2,000 participants.
“We already have our candidate,” Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party said in a press release. “While the other side is busy spending millions of dollars attacking each other and President Obama’s record, Democrats gathered across this state doing what we do best — quietly building our ground game for the fight ahead.”
Results of the presidential preference vote taken at each caucus will not be released until late March, Lizzy Reinholt, communications director for the party, said late Sunday. Each Democratic county committee must certify the vote before results are relayed to the Democratic State Committee and released to the public.
“People had an opportunity to support the presidential candidate of their choice, but Obama is the only declared candidate in the race,” she said.
Like Dwelley, the 50 or so people who attended the caucus at the Bangor Civic Center support the re-election of Obama to a second term in November.
That is why Ken Buckley, 79, said he was there.
“We need to re-elect him so he can continue what he’s been doing, which is trying to save what we have, but he’s being blocked all the way by Republicans,” he said. “Every time he says something ought to be done, he gets contradicted by Republicans.”
Buckley pointed to Obama’s recent comment about wanting to see that all young Americans get to college.
“Then, [Republican presidential candidate] Rick Santorum called him a snob,” he said. “He’s a got a major job trying to narrow the divide the Republicans have created.”
In Lincoln, a dozen Democrats representing several Lincoln Lakes region towns extolled Obama’s virtues during their caucus at Lincoln’s town office, with keynote speaker John Hanson dismissing Republican opposition to him as mean-spirited and unproductive.
“These people,” Hanson, 71, of Bangor said, “say no to everything he offers without offering any alternatives. President Obama is working very hard to do the right thing by all the people” despite having inherited “a hell of a mess.”
Hanson compared the vitriol that he says is poured on Obama with that President John F. Kennedy endured because Kennedy was Roman Catholic. He encouraged Democrats to unite now to support the president.
Caucuses are about more than selecting a candidate for president. Candidates for federal and state offices bounced Sunday from town to town, garnering support and making speeches. U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of East Millinocket spoke at caucuses in Bangor, Auburn and Lewiston. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree was scheduled to attend six caucuses in six hours.
“Chellie travelled through the district today, and was pleased to see the great turnout and enthusiasm support for the issues she’s been working on, like fighting for the middle class and creating an economy that works for everyone,” Pingree’s campaign manager said late Sunday in an email statement.
Much of the talk at a precaucus breakfast in Bangor for Democratic activists focused on taking back control in Washington, D.C., and Augusta. Democrats need to win just five more seats in 2012 than they won in 2010 to take back control of the Maine House of Representatives, according to information distributed Sunday morning. In Washington, D.C., they need 25 seats in the House to move from the Republican to the Democratic side of the aisle to be in the majority.
“With this Republican-controlled House and [state] Senate, we are going backwards,” Michaud told the group before heading south. “They need your help and I need your help.”
He pointed to the Democrats’ recent win of a special election in what was considered to be a Republican district as a sign that the political tide is turning. Earlier this month, Chris Johnson of Somerville won a special election over Dana Dow of Waldoboro to fill a vacant seat in the state Senate.
“People are fed up with the Republicans,” Michaud said.
The three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to run against U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe also spoke at the breakfast.
“I want to fight for you,” state Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth told the group. She said Snowe voted with the Republican majority 75 percent of the time and was not as independent as she claimed to be.
Former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said the people he talks to are more concerned about their and their families’ ability to thrive in the future than Snowe’s voting record.
“I hear about a lot of hardship,” the Old Town resident said. “I want to convert that hardship into hope.”
State Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland said the challenge for whomever runs against Snowe will be to convince Maine voters why she should be “fired.”
In comparing the number of bills she’s sponsored in the last 20 years to the number that have been passed to baseball, Hinck said that her batting average was .016.
“Even if she was playing Little League ball, she’d be benched,” he said.
“What I like most about caucus day in the Democratic Party is that we count all the votes,” Sam Spencer, Maine’s male representative to the Democratic National Committee, said. “We count all the votes — even the ones in Washington and Hancock counties.”
Most of those in attendance laughed at the Portland resident’s reference to the problems the Maine Republican Committee had in getting all of its votes tallied in its recent presidential caucuses.
“We all braved a nor’easter four years ago to caucus,” he said. “Some of us supported Hillary Clinton. Others supported Barack Obama. And some people in this room supported John Edwards. But we all came together to work for the nominee and we had a historic win. Well, we can’t run the same campaign in 2012 that we ran in 2008.”
He warned that not only will the Republican Party be pouring a lot of money into Maine — in part, to help Kevin Raye, now president of the Maine Senate, unseat Michaud — but the change in campaign laws that allows groups unaffiliated with candidates to spend unlimited amounts of money also will be a big factor in television advertisement wars. Spencer said the Democrats would win Obama’s re-election by doing what they do best — running a grass-roots campaign.
“This election will be won person-to-person, neighbor-to-neighbor, friend-to-friend and door-to-door,” he said.
Spencer urged Democrats to make a small contribution to Obama’s re-election campaign, to volunteer to work on the campaign, but most importantly, to “stand up for the president and defend him.”
“The president is relying on the people in this room to get the word out,” he said.
BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.