Maine Dems plan to make use of attention surrounding Obama visit

President Barack Obama waves to the crowd after speaking about health care reform during an event at the Portland Expo Center, in Portland, Maine, Thursday, April 1, 2010.
Alex Brandon | AP
President Barack Obama waves to the crowd after speaking about health care reform during an event at the Portland Expo Center, in Portland, Maine, Thursday, April 1, 2010.
Posted March 29, 2012, at 5:04 p.m.
Last modified March 29, 2012, at 9:14 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — When Barack Obama arrives in Maine Friday for the third time as the sitting U.S. president, campaign messages will likely be apparent in every move during the high-profile visit, as Democrats seek to make the most of the spotlight.

“His presence gives us a chance to rally around some critical issues, like protecting health care reforms that benefit working Mainers and investing in our country so we can get Americans back to work,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said in a statement Thursday. “And it lets us show him how important these things are to Maine.”

Pingree will face either Portland mariner Patrick Calder or state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney of Springvale, who are facing off in the GOP primary, in her fall re-election campaign.

Second District Rep. Mike Michaud, also a Democrat, who is trying to fend off a challenge from state Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry, announced Thursday he plans to give Obama a pair of Maine-made New Balance sneakers. It’s a chance for the incumbent congressman to illustrate his state pride and push his proposal to require the Pentagon to buy American footwear, a move he believes would buoy U.S. manufacturing.

Michaud, who also gave a pair of New Balance sneakers to first lady Michelle Obama during her late September visit to Maine, will start his day Friday at the footwear company’s Norridgewock facility. The congressman will tour the location and pick up the president’s gift before making his way to South Portland.

“Politicians love to talk about what they’re doing to create jobs,” Michaud said in a statement. “But this is one concrete change that could be made right now to create jobs here in Maine. I look forward to seeing the president tomorrow to urge him to make the Defense Department comply with current law and provide American-made footwear to our service members. Taking this action would be consistent with the President’s stated goals of boosting the U.S. manufacturing sector.”

Likewise, a Woolwich man whose two-year job hunt is symbolic of the roller coaster economy — and is now looking up, a fact likely not lost on the Obama campaign — is slated to introduce the president at his first stop at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.

Richard Schwartz, 48, was laid off from a boat building job during the worst months of the recession in 2009, and after taking advantage of federally funded worker retraining programs, was hired nine months ago by the Brunswick arm of Kestrel Aircraft Co.

According to officials of Coastal Counties Workforce Inc., the Brunswick organization which helped Schwartz navigate the retraining programs, Schwartz’ appearance will help Obama illustrate the need for continued federal aid as Maine and the nation climb out of the recession.

“Richard’s story is a good example of the important role that federal job training plays in our economic recovery, and why we, at CCWI, take our work overseeing these programs and obtaining more funding for worker retraining very seriously,” Michael Bourret, director of Coastal Counties Workforce, said in a statement. “It’s also a story of his own perseverance and drive to learn new skills in order to obtain employment in a new industry.”

The president will attend a pair of fundraisers, the first at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, where it was moved to accommodate more supporters. Later, a private event with tickets starting at $5,000 will be held at the Portland Museum of Art. Both are sold out.

In the hours surrounding his visit, the Portland Police Department will close down four street sections around the Portland Museum of Art to allow for safe and expedient passage of the presidential motorcade. From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the police will block off High Street between Danforth and Congress streets, Spring Street between Park and Oak streets, Free Street between Congress and Oak streets and Oak Street between Free and Spring streets.

For security reasons, the city of Portland has not released the exact motorcade route, although a police announcement of street closures said the presidential cars are expected to cause “only minor traffic delays.”

Obama’s first trip to Maine as president came in April of 2010, when he gave a speech in Portland touting his signature health care reform proposals. He then returned in July of that same year for a family vacation on Mount Desert Island.

“It’s very exciting to have the president in town,” Pingree said. “I’m happy he and his family have been able to come here so often in the last couple of years. … I hope he gets a chance to sample some of our great local food while he’s here — that’ll definitely ensure he keeps coming back.”

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