PORTLAND – The Portland Expo is home to the biggest concentration of Republicans south of Piscataquis County this weekend, and it’s a target-rich environment for those who would be governor.

The State Republican Convention began Friday and continues today. There are 2,100 delegates here for the convention. Party stars like Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe spoke Friday, rallying the troops for this year’s elections.

Congressional candidates Dean Scontras and Jason Levesque took the stage for their speeches, and Senate and House hopefuls got a few minutes of time on the big screen.

But the meat of this convention is the gubernatorial primary.

Seven from the party are seeking to be the first Republican in the Blaine House since John McKernan. They have been around the state at bean suppers, candidate forums, fairs and festivals. Some can recite the others’ stump speeches.

Friday night, they debated each other. Today, each will get 20 minutes in the afternoon to give their pitch.

What’s different about this weekend is the audience.

Convention delegates will almost surely vote in the June 8 primary. Many are supporting a candidate already. Part of this game for the candidates is to have as many supporters at the convention as possible, wearing T-shirts and screaming when he takes the stage.

It’s one of the few times in a primary when a candidate’s volunteers and staffers from all around the state are under the same roof.

Getting them energized to send out mailers, put up lawn signs and get friends on board is a big piece of the weekend.

Each candidate has his own strategy for the weekend, his own goals that will make this weekend a success, if met.

Abbott has been going to Republican conventions since 1986 — for the last 13 years or so as Collins’ chief of staff and/or campaign manager. In a way, he needs to reintroduce himself to the delegates.

“My mission is to get these people to see me in a different role, and to show them I have the leadership abilities and the vision to be their candidate for governor,” he said.

Beardsley was the last candidate to enter the race, and he doesn’t come from the political world — he was president of Husson College. He’s been strong in fundraising, and has put a lot of his own money into the campaign. His goal is to keep the momentum going and to further build his name recognition.

“I see this as the kickoff of my formal campaign,” he said.

Jacobson, president of Maine & Co., said he sees this as a chance to inspire Republican voters and give a speech that lets them know he can win. It’s a battle of ideas, he said, and candidates are refraining from throwing elbows, in the name of party unity.

LePage said he’s trying to meet as many people as he can, answer their questions and basically get his own message out — differentiate in a crowded field. He’s pushing his message of a candidate who was born in welfare and worked his way out.

Insiders say conventions tend to lean toward the right wing of the party. That may favor LePage, who, along with Beardsley, is viewed as more conservative than the rest of the field.

For Mills, the challenge will be to portray a tough, unyielding image to that crowd. He’s a socially moderate Republican, a pragmatist in the State House. He needs to answer questions about his legislative record unapologetically.

Otten has had a rough week, with allegations of plagiarism hitting his campaign. The campaign worker in question resigned. Otten said it has been a positive for his campaign, with people telling him that his taking responsibility and moving ahead showed him in a strong light.

Otten was at the Expo at 7:30 a.m. Friday, greeting people. He did that again at 11 and then again later. “It’s 48 hours to press the flesh,” he said.

If anyone takes a swipe at other candidates, it could be Poliquin. He’s pushing himself as an outsider candidate, someone with business experience who could fix the systemic problems. When Otten’s campaign stumbled this week, Poliquin had a release out on it, pointing out problems.

Poliquin said he plans to keep pushing his message that he’s equipped to restructure government, and thinks voters want to get behind the candidate best able to win in November. 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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