PORTLAND – U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins headlined the Maine Republican State Convention on Friday, bringing messages of inspiration — and poll results — to rally the party faithful.

More than 2,000 people are expected to attend the convention this weekend at the Portland Expo. Today, the seven Republican candidates for their party’s gubernatorial nomination will address the crowd.

On opening day Friday, delegates rang “liberty bells” and cheered as legislative and congressional candidates talked about the need for smaller government, lower taxes and a friendly business climate.

Snowe cited a recent poll that showed 57 percent of “enthusiastic voters” say they will vote Republican this year.

“The people of Maine and America are with us,” she said. “We are going to move heaven and earth to be triumphant in November.”

She then recalled the last time a Republican occupied the Blaine House — when her husband, John R. McKernan, was governor, from 1987 to 1995.

“The next Republican governor is right here at this convention and only eight months away from taking office,” she said.

The seven nominees — Paul LePage, state Sen. Peter Mills, Bruce Poliquin, Les Otten, Matt Jacobson, Steve Abbott and Bill Beardsley — will face each other on the June 8 ballot.

Whether Snowe and Collins would appear in person Friday was in doubt all week. Both were able to break away from Washington to speak, giving the convention a boost of energy.

Collins thanked delegates for their support when she ran for office two years ago and trounced her challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, with 61 percent of the vote.

“I know each of you will work very hard for the candidate of your choice,” she said. “After the primary, my friends, all of you must band together to elect the Republican nominee as the next governor of the state of Maine.”

In an interview after her speech, Collins said she well remembers what it was like to run in a crowded primary. She was one of eight Republican gubernatorial candidates for the nomination in 1994. She won the primary, but lost in November in a four-way race.

She said she senses a Republican wave this year.

“I’ve seen a renewed energy in the Republican Party throughout the nation,” she said.

Republicans running for Congress — Dean Scontras in the 1st District and Jason Levesque in the 2nd — addressed delegates and talked about the need for new leadership in Washington.

Scontras, who will face U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in November, said it’s up to ordinary people to take a stand.

“Let’s remind (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and Chellie Pingree that Maine’s 1st Congressional District seat does not belong to one party,” he said. “It especially does not belong to the progressive caucus.”

Levesque, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in the 2nd District, said he wants his children to have a better life.

“You want better,” he said. “You deserve better, and if I’m elected, we all will do better.”

Although many of the delegates wore stickers and buttons for their favorite gubernatorial candidates, others came to the convention to learn more about the seven men fighting for the nomination.

“I’m a little overwhelmed with the choices,” said Mary Margaret O’Dowd, a Washington County delegate. “The candidates for governor are all fairly strong, but it’s a matter of identifying who it is who’s going to get the job done.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

[email protected]