LEWISTON — Democrats running for governor worked to differentiate themselves from Republicans on Saturday but avoided criticizing each other as they head toward the June 8 election.

The four candidates – Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, Patrick McGowan, Steven Rowe and Rosa Scarcelli – talked about education, health care and jobs in speeches to the Maine Democratic Convention at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

Mitchell, a lawyer and legislator, led off the afternoon with a high-energy speech.

“I am not running against fellow Democrats – I love them all,” she said. “I’m running against the George Bush Republicans.”

She praised Democrats for passing federal health care, saying Maine has led the way in expanding coverage. And she said those who criticize her for her elected experience – she was first elected to the House in 1974 – are off the mark.

“The last time I went for surgery, I did not ask for a medical student,” she said. “You don’t entrust an aircraft carrier to an ensign, and you don’t give the ship of state to a surfboarder.”

About 1,100 delegates and guests attended the final day of the two-day convention. That’s about half the number that attended the Republican convention in Portland two weeks ago.

Following low-key opening ceremonies Friday night, Democrats met Saturday to vote on a platform, hold county caucuses, hear from their candidates and get a national perspective from keynote speaker Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Mitchell’s speech was followed by McGowan, who had 12-year-old Nick Danby of Bangor introduce him. The articulate and well-spoken boy, who said he planned to run for governor in 2026, said he wanted to urge adults to vote for McGowan because he will put the state on the right track for the future.

“I know the candidate I support will help my future and my friends’ future,” he said.

McGowan focused on his roots – a native Mainer born in Bangor, growing up in Somerset County and enjoying the natural beauty of the state, such as fishing and hiking.
“I know this state like the back of my hand,” he said.

McGowan, who most recently served as commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation, talked about his election to the Legislature at age 23, his role in running four small businesses, and his tenure as regional administrator for the Small Business Administration in New England.

“In my administration, we will invest in Maine,” he said. “We will put people back to work. We will build things.”

Former Attorney General Steven Rowe marched in with a large contingent and was introduced by several people, including former Senate President Beth Edmonds of Freeport.

Rowe said he’ll bring a new approach to governing and emphasized government’s role in helping to better people’s lives.

“My vision of Maine is a place where every child starts kindergarten ready and able to learn,” he said. “My vision for Maine is a place with health insurance and access to community-based primary care.”

He said Republicans are relying on “fear and blame” in their television ads and their party platform.

Democrats need to project positive energy, he said, and keep the election focused on jobs.

“Education is the key that unlocks opportunity,” he said. “We must focus on education in the state of Maine.”

Business owner Rosa Scarcelli, who runs an affordable-housing provider, came to the stage with her children, husband and father. She emphasized her business background and lack of political experience.

A Bowdoin College graduate who grew up in Wilton, Scarcelli said she remembers a time when the Bass Shoe factory was up and running.

“That factory symbolized everything that was great about Maine,” she said. “It’s gone today.”

Scarcelli, who said she is running to give Democrats a chance to vote for an outsider, said people have lost faith in government.

“The anti-incumbency, ‘throw the bums out’ mood is alive and kicking in our state,” she said. “It’s important to win in June, but it’s also important to win in November. We won’t win by giving them the same old, same old.”

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