AUGUSTA – A chance to showcase the six Republicans running for the U.S. Senate was thwarted at the GOP convention Sunday when the schedule fell so far behind there was no time for them to speak.

Convention Chairman Brent Tweed, a Ron Paul supporter who was elected Saturday to lead the proceedings, changed the agenda and eliminated the 20-minute speaking slots for the candidates. All are competing for the party nomination to fill the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.

With just five weeks to go before the June 12 primary, the candidates spend weeks getting geared up to address the convention. It’s the largest single audience they’ll see before the vote, and it’s the most important bloc of voters — active Republicans.

“This whole weekend has been an absolute fiasco,” candidate Scott D’Amboise said as he stood on a plastic chair outside his booth to address supporters.

Earlier in the day, the candidates were told their speaking times would be cut in half. But just a few hours later, former Senate President Rick Bennett started a trend by giving his speech in the atrium outside the meeting hall when it became apparent the candidates would get no time at all.

“This election here in Maine for U.S. Senate is about the survival of our republic,” he said.

Others quickly followed suit by gathering supporters in side rooms at the convention center or at their booths on the perimeter of the convention floor.

Candidate William Schneider, Maine’s attorney general, said the campaigns put in weeks of work organizing volunteers and spent money on videos and slide shows. They also carefully crafted remarks meant to appeal to the entire convention, not just the small group of supporters who gathered for the makeshift speeches scattered throughout the building.

“This is the one chance Senate candidates have to reach all Republican voters from all corners of the state,” said Schneider, who did not give his speech.

State Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, followed Bennett on the steps, tossing her speech aside and speaking off the cuff. She said she has 20 years of experience at the State House, which has prepared her well for national service.

“I’m here as a conservative candidate socially and fiscally,” she said.

Treasurer Bruce Poliquin spoke in a side room to several supporters. “We need someone who’s a senator who goes down to Washington and has a backbone and won’t wilt under criticism,” he said. “I’ve proven to you I won’t do that.”

Secretary of State Charlie Summers told supporters in front of his booth that whoever goes to Washington will have to make difficult choices. “We need somebody who has a proven record of standing up,” he said.

Four Democrats — former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth and Justin Pollard of Portland — are competing for their party’s nomination. Former Gov. Angus King, an independent, is running as well.

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @smcover@