Down East lines up behind GOP hopefuls

Posted June 02, 2010, at 1:17 a.m.

PERRY, Maine — With a week left before the gubernatorial primary election, one of Maine’s leading Republican voices revealed whom he supports in the seven-way GOP race.

Sen. Kevin Raye of Perry, the Maine Senate Republican leader and one of the county’s most well-known politicians, announced Tuesday that he is endorsing Republican Les Otten, a businessman from western Maine.

“I know that with Les Otten as governor, Maine’s small businesses and working families will have a friend in the Blaine House,” stated Raye in a press release from the Otten campaign. “I like the fact that Les knows firsthand what it is to face difficult times in a tough economy and to overcome adversity.”

Raye’s announcement comes on the heels of Passamaquoddy tribal leaders’ nod toward Steve Abbott and the Washington County Republican Committee’s straw-poll support of Paul LePage.

Washington County is one of the most economically challenged regions of the state.

That dubious distinction is why most voters in Maine’s easternmost county will base their decisions in the gubernatorial race on who will create the most jobs, according to Christopher Gardner, who chairs both the county’s Republican Committee and board of commissioners.

“Washington County has long symbolized what challenges the rest of the state will soon face,” he said. “The economic recession has always been here. It’s the death by 1,000 cuts that has been going on in Washington County for 30 years.”

Last month, Indian Township Gov. William Nicholas and Lt. Gov. Joseph Socobasin announced they had switched parties from Democrat to Republican in order to support Abbott, who is most well known for his role as former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

“It’s been clear to me the importance of having a Maine governor who has passion and understanding for the Passamaquoddy people,” said Nicholas in a press release. “I believe Steve Abbott will, no doubt, serve us respectfully.”

The Washington County Republican Committee chose LePage, a businessman and mayor of Waterville, in an unofficial straw poll conducted in late February. Committee Chairman Gardner attributed LePage’s win to a rise in conservative ideals in the county.

“We have seen a lot of people involved who didn’t have time for politics before,” said Gardner, who personally supports Otten. “The people here don’t want any more handouts or unemployment benefits. We need jobs.”

Raye said Washington County is in the midst of a shift toward the political right, a trend he expects to continue. In 2004, five of the six legislative representatives from Washington County were Democrats. Today, five of the six are Republicans, said Raye.

“We’ve absolutely reversed it,” said Raye. “There’s a real sense that the current majority in the Legislature and the current administration has not been sensitive to rural Maine. In Washington County and elsewhere, people are hungry for a change.”

Katherine Cassidy of Machias, a member of the Washington County Democratic Committee, said her group has chosen not to endorse anyone in her party’s gubernatorial primary.

“We’re leaving that decision to the individual voters,” Cassidy said.

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