SOUTH PORTLAND — President Obama came to Maine on Friday to raise money for his campaign while ramping up his attacks against Republicans.

Although he never mentioned Mitt Romney, his likely challenger in the general election in November, he criticized Republican policies using the harsh rhetoric of the political campaign to come.

Speaking at Southern Maine Community College, Obama said the Republican policies of the past decade were the same as policies that preceded the Great Depression.

“The idea that you would keep doing the same things, over and over again, even though it has been proven not to work – that is a sign of madness,” he said.

He spoke in the college’s gym Friday afternoon before a boisterous crowd of 1,700, who paid $44 to $100 to get in.

On Friday evening, Obama attended a more intimate and far pricier event at the Portland Museum of Art, where about 130 donors paid a minimum of $5,000 to attend. Obama’s fundraisers Friday in Maine, and earlier in Vermont, were his last for this quarterly campaign finance reporting period. The president raised $45 million last month for his re-election.

The Maine Republican Party said on its website Friday that Obama is coming up short of his record-breaking 2008 pace and has collected tens of millions of dollars less than President Bush’s re-election campaign had at the same point in 2004.

Obama landed at the Portland International Jetport at 4:09 p.m. Friday, 11 minutes ahead of schedule. Air Force One taxied into view around 4:13 p.m., tailed by two SUVs. A military aide saluted and two sets of stairs were put in place by the aircraft.

Obama jogged down the front set of stairs, cheered by about 60 invited guests.

Matthew Marston of Portland and his 3-year-old son, Tommy, got to meet Obama before he left the airport.

“I thought he was a class act. He gave my son a high five. He asked him his name. He shook everyone’s hand,” Marston said. “I said, ‘Thank you for fighting the good fight, Mr. President.’“

Leonard Cummings Sr. of Portland, who has led the restoration of the Abyssinian Meeting House, gave Obama a flier to autograph, describing the restoration project. Obama signed the paper and gave it back to him.

Cummings attended Obama’s arrival with two daughters and a granddaughter. Deborah Khadraoui said her father and others have worked for civil rights for 50 years.

“It’s the culmination of all those efforts,” she said. “We met (Obama) when he was running for president. We’re so proud of him.”

The motorcade went from the airport to the event at Southern Maine Community College. Along the way, small groups gathered by the Embassy Suites, the Hilton Garden Inn and other spots around the airport, and around the Mill Creek shopping center and Broadway in South Portland. Some people waved, took photographs or held Obama 2012 signs.

The auditorium at SMCC was packed with about 1,700 people waiting for the president.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who until last year was Obama’s Middle East envoy, rallied the crowd as it waited for the president.

Pingree recounted a recent telephone conversation with the president. Recalling his victory in Maine in 2008, she said, he told her, “Maine was pretty good to both of us.”

Obama won Maine’s four electoral votes, beating Sen. John McCain 56.6 percent to 40.5 percent. Pingree won 59 percent of the vote in her race.

Pingree is married to financier S. Donald Sussman, a contributor to Democratic and charitable causes and the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.

Richard Schwartz, 48, of Woolwich, who was laid off as a boat builder in 2009 and is being retrained by Coastal Training Workforce Inc. as part of a federally funded program, introduced the president.

People in the crowd leaped to their feet when the president arrived.

“Hello, Maine!” Obama shouted to the crowd after climbing onto the stage.

Obama spoke for just short of 30 minutes, giving a rally-the-troops speech that seesawed between his upbeat vision for the nation and his disdain for Republican policies.

He said the country can rise above partisan division and praised several past Republican presidents for making investments that benefited the country as a whole, including Abraham Lincoln for investing in railroads, and Dwight Eisenhower for investing in the interstate highway system.

“Our politics may be divided,” he said, “but most Americans still understand we’ve got a stake in each other. It doesn’t matter what you look like or where you come from. We rise and fall as one nation, one people. And that’s what’s at stake right now. That’s what this election is about.”

At the same time he was calling for national unity, he didn’t hold back from attacking present-day Republicans, saying they are peddling the “same-old, worn-out, tired, you’re-on-your-own economics.”

He said the election offers two competing visions for America.

“This is not a political debate. This is a make-or-break moment for our country and our middle class,” he said. “Who is fighting for you?”

He offered a vigorous defense of his health care law, without mentioning the Supreme Court case to determine its constitutionality.

Obama said Republicans want to return to economic policies that would let Wall Street play by its own rules and allow insurance companies to roll back health coverage.

He ended the speech about 5:35 p.m. and shook hands with people in the crowd, while a public address system blared Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own.”

Sitting at the top of bleachers, Danielle Vayenas of Portland quickly used her smartphone to update her Facebook status. “Inspiring speech! Photos to come later!” she wrote.

Vayenas said she feels a strong connection to Obama because she was out of work for a year during the recession. She said a bill he signed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, helped her pay for health insurance after she lost her job. She said she has a pre-existing health condition and would not have been able to afford health insurance on her own.

“Without it, I would have been in big trouble,” she said.

Joe Barbeau, 79, of Kennebunk said Obama’s speech pumped him up.

“We have to keep fighting,” said Barbeau, who volunteered for President John F. Kennedy’s campaign when he was in college. “We can’t afford to have the Republicans take over. We can’t go back to the Bush years.”

Obama moved on from SMCC to attend the private dinner at the Portland Museum of Art.

By midafternoon, protesters had gathered in the plaza next to the Eastland Park Hotel, across Congress Street from the museum, decrying the high-priced fundraiser.

Christopher Pennell, 27, of Portland, a protester, held a sign saying, “Impeach Obama.”

“I think Obama reflects the corruption of the federal government,” Pennell said. “I voted for him because I thought he’d protect my civil liberties. But I think he’s doing worse than Bush did.”

Occupy Maine set up a half-dozen plastic blue tents in the plaza, adorned with written information about the cause and the unequal distribution of wealth in this country.

The protesters also set up a soup line, with six kinds of free soup for anyone who wanted it.

The protesters included state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, who is running for the U.S. Senate, and targeted Super PACs – independent groups that can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, unions and trade groups for political campaigns.

Dill set up a “bake sale,” offering “Super PACs” of lobster-shaped cookies, with a price tag of more than $25,000.

Dill said she was trying to make a point about “the exorbitant cost” of running for office by demonstrating outside of a fundraiser where the president was raising thousands of dollars from wealthy donors.

 

Staff Writers David Hench and Ray Routhier contributed to this report.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]