6:54 p.m. — Romney received a nice applause at the end of his speech, but not as raucous as you sometimes hear at political speeches.
That may be a function, however, of the crowd’s demographics. Romney tends to have older, less die-hard supporters than some other candidates. (Rep. Ron Paul or Barack Obama, anyone?)
Anyway, it’s been fun. Check out tomorrow’s Press Herald for a full recap and reaction from tonight’s event.
6:52 p.m. — Romney just ended his town-hall event with a scathing criticism of teachers unions: They have too much power, too much money and don’t like to test students, he said.
In fact, Romney mentioned his dislike for teachers unions at least three times tonight.
Romney said Massachusetts — under his leadership — instituted mandatory testing in schools, something No Child Left Behind later adopted.
He also said Mass. had the best-rated schools in the country during his tenure, and said it gave scholarships to high-school students who finished near the top of their class.
Romney said America must incentivize success like he did in Massachusetts.
“This is a Capitalist society we live in. But that’s not just financial capital, it’s human capital,” he said. “We need to invest in our students.”
6:41 p.m. — As president, Romney said he’d increase natural-gas production. That set off a debate between crowd members about fracking, which temporarily drowned out Romney.
Romney, however, shouted over the ruckus and eventually regained control.
“70 percent of the gas wells are already being fracked today. So guess what, it’s already being done,” Romney said. “And it’s not affecting our water source. … I don’t recall seeing anything about our water being on fire.”
“If you don’t want oil from Canada and if you don’t want gas from America, vote for Barack Obama.”
6:38 p.m. — “How would you encourage more private charity as opposed to government (dependence)?” one crowd member asked.
Romney said charity — whom you give it to and how much — is up to the individual. But he said government shouldn’t be in the charity business and implied it shouldn’t fund nonprofits.
“I like PBS, I like Big Bird and Burt and Ernie,” Romney said. “But I’d rather let Big Bird get to know Kellogg’s Cornflakes and not (have us) borrow from China to pay for it.”
6:30 p.m. — Romney said more people have fallen into poverty under President Obama’s watch than under any other president in history.
A man in the crowd yelled that there was a recession, apparently trying to absolve President Obama of some of the blame. Romney, however, wouldn’t budge.
“You’re right. It’s been a recession for three years,” Romney said.
I don’t have the dates in front of me, but I’m pretty sure Romney’s statement is factually incorrect. Nonetheless, the crowd loved his answer.
6:25 p.m. — Romney said Obama has weakened the United States military. He said our Navy has the fewest number of ships since 1917, and the Air Force has the fewest number of planes since 1947, “when it was created.”
As president, Romney said he’d increase ship building for the Navy from 9 to 15 ships per year, a proposal which drew loud applause.
Romney also said having a larger military would deter future wars and deter future attacks on the U.S.
6:22 p.m. — A woman asked Romney why he “stashed his money away in the Cayman Islands.”
She got booed by some in the crowd, cheered by others. But Romney brushed off the question, saying he doesn’t manage his own money — a blind trustee does — and Romney doesn’t have any control over it.
That being said, Romney added he still paid all his taxes on that money.
Neither the woman nor anyone else asked about Romney’s Swiss bank account, which was closed last year but has also drawn criticism.
6:18 p.m. — Romney said unlike career politicians, he’d only go to Washington for his presidency and then he’d come home. He’s not interested in staying there forever, he said.
He’d rather be in New Hampshire, he said, at his home on Lake Winnipesaukee.
6:15 p.m. — As Romney railed against Obama’s healthcare plan, a man in the crowd yelled that Obama’s healthcare plan is based on Romney’s plan from Massachusetts.
Romney shouted him down, however, and received large applause for doing so.
“If you like him so much, go vote for him,” Romney told the heckler.
6:13 p.m. — Romney attacked the president for his compromise today involving the Catholic Church and birth-control access for women.
Romney said the insurance companies will just pass the cost onto the consumer.
Romney called Obama’s compromise “deceptive” and “disingenuous,” and said he would end the president’s War on Religion.
6:10 p.m. — Romney guaranteed as president he would balance the budget and cap government spending.
6:08 p.m. — Romney said Americans’ “inalienable rights” come from God, not the government.
America needs to get back to its founding principles, he said, which President Obama and his supporters don’t understand.
“The president said he wants to fundamentally transform America. I don’t want to transform America,” he said. “I want to restore it to its founding principles.”
6:05 p.m. — Romney received a very loud standing ovation when he was introduced.
He said three years ago, President Obama told The Today Show he’d likely be a one-term president if he couldn’t turn the economy around.
“While we’re here to collect,” Romney said, as the crowd cheered. “These are tough times. This president has failed us.”
He said more foreclosures have happened under President Obama than any president in history.
6 p.m. — “This is the most important election, I feel from the bottom of my heart, in a generation,” Schneider said.
He also said President Obama has “mortgaged our future, our children’s future” to the Chinese, and Romney was the “only candidate” who could undo President Obama’s “over-regulation.”
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu is also in attendance.
5:54 p.m. — Peter Cianchette, Romney’s state campaign manager, just called Maine a “campaign battleground state.”
He implored Maine’s residents to work tirelessly for Romney in the next 24 hours.
“It’s time we return a leader to the White House,” Cianchette said. “He’s the only candidate who’s been a leader his whole life. … He’s created tens of thousands of new jobs.”
Cianchette said his dream was Romney getting Maine’s four electoral votes Saturday, and ending President Barack Obama’s presidency in November.
Bill Schneider, Maine’s attorney general, will also introduce Romney.
5:44 p.m. — The crowd is definitely older tonight than the crowds at Ron Paul’s rallies in Maine. I’d say the average age at this event is somewhere between 45 and 55.
An aide to Mitt Romney just announced the event will begin shortly. He urged everyone to vote in the Maine Republican caucuses tomorrow for Romney.
Romney’s staff is informing each audience member where their relevant caucus will be held, if it hasn’t already taken place.
Many of the state’s caucuses actually voted last weekend. But Romney chose not to come earlier in the year, likely because he didn’t think Maine was overly important until he lost all three contests on Tuesday.
5:34 p.m. — The event was scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m. No word from organizers as to when Mitt Romney will actually appear and begin to speak.
A few stragglers are still funneling in. Around 5:10 p.m., there was a small line to get inside, but it was moving quickly.
5:26 p.m. — Inside The Portland Company, bleachers holding several hundred people have been arranged to face the west wall of the building, where a stage has been constructed.
Large American flags adorn the windows, and a large “Romney: Believe in America” sign hangs behind the stage. A small group of Romney supporters have been placed on the stage, and will sit behind the candidate as he speaks.
The building is not particularly well-lit or insulated, but Romney presumably chose it for its manufacturing history and industrial feel.
Through one of the uncovered windows, you can see a large, yellow “Liberty: Too Big To Fail” sign across the street. It was hung on a fence by Ron Paul’s supporters. Many Republicans think Rep. Ron Paul will beat Romney in the Maine caucuses tomorrow.
Romney, the presumed front-runner, is hoping to avoid a fourth straight loss. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Tuesday.
5:10 p.m. — Most of the crowd has funneled into The Portland Company Marine Complex at 58 Fore Street in Portland.
A group of Ron Paul protestors are standing across the street from the event, greeting passers-by.
Using a portable stereo system, the protestors played popular songs that had been re-worked with pro-Ron Paul lyrics. At about 5 p.m., a version of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared from the speakers. “We’ll make a brand new start of it, vote Ron Paul!” the vocalist crooned