BANGOR, Maine — A group of Maine Republican leaders gathered at Husson University on Friday in a show of unity they believe will help them win in this fall’s general election.
The Maine GOP hosted a pep rally of sorts that drew more than 100 loud, enthusiastic supporters to the Dyke Center for Family Business. Speakers at the morning event stressed the importance of a unified party in getting their slate of candidates into office.
“What unites all of us is a commitment to growing more jobs to make sure Maine people have the opportunities they deserve and they want,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said. She was joined at the event by Gov. Paul LePage and other GOP candidates.
Coming off his successful primary bid against former Maine Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry in Tuesday’s election, former State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin took to the podium to say he looked forward to joining Collins in Washington “to fix the very serious problems we have that will affect the next generation and the generations after.”
Raye, defeated in the sometimes-bitter primary contest, did not attend the event. Speakers credited Raye and his supporters with running a strong campaign. Raye has not yet publicly endorsed Poliquin.
Party spokesman David Sorensen said Poliquin is an “energetic candidate” and has support from across the party.
“The party is looking forward to the general election and beating Emily Cain in November,” Sorensen added, referring to the state senator from Orono who won her primary race against Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash.
Maine Democrats responded to the rally by questioning whether their opponents’ show of unity would last until November. Minutes before the event started, Maine Democrats issued a statement headlined “Maine GOP Splintered by Tea Party Takeover.”
“Every day the GOP tells the people of Maine they are unified behind Paul LePage and Bruce Poliquin is a good day for Democrats,” Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said in the release. “Their extreme views are out of touch with Maine people from Kittery to Fort Kent and there are many in the GOP who know this is a problem.”
The release went on to say that some GOP members question whether Poliquin can win the general election, but only cited former state Sen. Debbie Plowman saying that “many Republicans feel Poliquin’s personal attacks on Raye during the campaign are ‘unforgivable.’”
The campaign grew nasty in the latter stages, with Poliquin labeling Raye a “liberal” and Raye counterpunching with an ad featuring a baby whom the ad claimed had lived longer in the 2nd District than Poliquin, who recently moved to Oakland.
Democrats argued Poliquin is part of a “wave of extreme right-wing candidates” winning primaries across the country, and argued that some GOP voters would shy away from him for that association.
Democrats cited Poliquin endorsements from conservative groups like FreedomWorks for America and the Republican Liberty Caucus, which have supported Tea Party candidates including Rand Paul and Mike Lee, as evidence of his far-right standing.
Poliquin countered the Democrats’ claims after the event, saying, “I think you can see by this gathering here today that we all want the same things for our kids and grandkids. We want them to be healthy, we want them to be safe and happy, and we want them to have jobs.”
Poliquin said he believes his 35 years as a businessman will resonate with Democrats and independents, not just people within his own party.
“We stand by our records as Republicans of creating more jobs and more opportunities for our families here, and that’s in great contrast to the folks on the other side,” Poliquin added.
A slate of Republicans including LePage, Collins, GOP Chairman Rick Bennett, House minority leader Ken Fredette of Newport, Senate minority leader Mike Thibodeau of Winterport and Isaac Misiuk of Gorham, who was uncontested in his primary and will run against Rep. Chellie Pingree for a seat in the 1st Congressional District, also spoke at Friday’s rally.
They stressed the importance of reining in state and federal spending, limiting government interference, creating jobs and reforming welfare.
During his time at the podium, LePage lauded Republican efforts to bring jobs to Maine — dropping unemployment from 8 percent to 5.7 percent, its lowest point since 2008.
LePage, who recently returned from a trip to Iceland, said he will be going to Beijing next week for a two-day trip in an attempt to court Chinese companies to Maine.
“The Democratic Party has failed the last two years — big time,” LePage said, citing recent political battles over his attempts to introduce bills to increase state Medicaid reimbursement rates to nursing homes and expand Maine’s drug court system to crack down on dealers at the end of the legislative session. LePage argued that Democrats had forgotten elderly Mainers and “left drug dealers on the street.”
“Actions speak louder than words, and that should be our campaign message this year,” LePage said. “This is our year.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213
A caption on a previous version of this story misspelled Isaiah Dunphy’s name.