BANGOR — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins took the podium at a Maine Republican Party rally Friday morning flanked by three men whose reputations, rhetoric and style stand in stark contrast to her own.

The differences between the moderate senator and the more conservative duo of Gov. Paul LePage and 2nd District candidate Bruce Poliquin – as well as Isaac Misiuk, a neophyte running in the 1st District – mirror the ideological fissures in the national Republican Party, but Collins said she was ready to promote candidates from all spectrums of the party.

“I very much believe in the big tent philosophy of the Republican Party,” she said. “We want to reach out to people who share our core values of creating more jobs, a smaller federal government and less interference in people’s lives and personal responsibility and individual freedom. Those are the issues that unite us. There’s room for differing views.”

Collins’ comments followed a rally at the Richard E. Dyke Center for Family Business at Husson University aimed at showing party unity. The event also marked the unveiling of “Freedom 14,” an election plan that Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett said was “big as our ideas” and as energetic as its candidates.

LePage, the first speaker, hit familiar notes, blasting the Democratic-controlled Legislature for rejecting an array of his proposals.

“Democrats have failed,” he said, pointing out that lawmakers had failed to pass his welfare proposals and “left drug dealers on the streets,” a reference to the Legislature’s decision not to fund his drug enforcement bill.

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant targeted the tensions among Republicans in a statement after the Bangor event.

“Every day the GOP tells the people of Maine they are unified behind Paul LePage and Bruce Poliquin is a good day for Democrats,” Grant said. “Their extreme views are out of touch with Maine people from Kittery to Fort Kent, and there are many in the GOP who know this is a problem.”

Collins, who spoke next, congratulated Poliquin, the tea party-backed and self-described reformer who on Tuesday vanquished a primary opponent, Kevin Raye, for the nomination in the 2nd Congressional District. The primary was a brutal fight, marked by negative ads. Raye’s campaign was modeled on Collins’ style of compromise. Poliquin’s promised to never abandon Republican principles. He characterized Raye as a liberal.

Raye was not at the rally Friday. He has not endorsed Poliquin. On Tuesday, former state Sen. Debra Plowman, a Raye supporter, told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that Poliquin could alienate members of the party. She suggested that some could stay home in November.

“The rationale of, you know, ‘If you burn everything to the ground, great, and all you have to do is join me on the podium and everything’s just fine,’ and it’s not,” she told MPBN.

On Friday Bennett and LePage both congratulated Raye for his public service. The party wasn’t done with him, they said. They needed him.

“It was a tough campaign, but somebody has to win,” LePage said.

Collins was asked if Raye would come back to the fold.

“There were a lot of people there today who support Kevin Raye,” she said. “They came out in support of Bruce Poliquin now that Bruce has won and is the Republican nominee. So I think you’ll see the party really coalescing and coming together.”

Collins was also asked about Tuesday’s shocking ouster of Republican House leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor was defeated by tea party-backed Dave Brat. Brat unseated Cantor, the prospective future House speaker, despite being outspent $5.4 million to $123,000.

Collins said she did not know Cantor. Asked why she thought he lost, she said she had heard that he didn’t get back to his district very often.

“It certainly took people by surprise,” she said. “I’m told that the polling was far off in his race. Some people had suggested to me that he focused so much on his leadership position, traveling around the country and helping other candidates, that he didn’t come home often enough. As someone who comes home every weekend, I know how important it is to keep connected to the people who sent you to Washington.”

At one point during her rally speech Collins motioned to longtime conservative activist Mary Adams. Adams, who has often called on candidates to adopt hard-line positions on taxes and who frequently criticizes Republicans who don’t, held a sign, “Grow jobs, shrink welfare.”

Collins took the sign, noting that “grow jobs” is an ideal that “unites us all.”

A month ago Collins, who is seeking her fourth term and is being challenged by Democrat Shenna Bellows, stood outside the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan to accept the endorsement of independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.

King’s brand of compromise has been eschewed and criticized as weakness by two of the men Collins vowed to support on Friday.

LePage has regularly battled with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, and sometimes members of his own party. Poliquin, the former state treasurer, has built his campaign on the assertion that Republican values will not be compromised if he’s elected to the seat currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

On Friday Poliquin said that he would work with independents and Democrats to lift “the dark cloud that is smothering our economy.”

Poliquin also offered encouraging words for the 25-year-old Misiuk, who is taking on Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in the 1st Congressional District. Misiuk said he’s running for the youth in the state. Without a youthful voice in Congress, he said, the decisions there amounted to “taxation without representation.”

Poliquin, 60, said Misiuk would be successful. When he was, he said, he’d drive him to the Capitol.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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