SACO — Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick offered an impassioned plea Monday for Democrats to get involved early and often in Maine’s gubernatorial campaign.

Patrick, who was campaigning for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, made the appeal during a rousing speech to about 75 members of the party faithful at the Saco Transportation Center.

“Go out and talk to everybody you know, particularly those who don’t already agree with you. Not only will (Michaud) win, but so will you,” Patrick said.

The campaign swing, which started with a fundraiser in Portland attended by Patrick and the head of the Democratic Governors Association, is a sign of the national attention being given to Maine’s three-way gubernatorial election.

Just like in 2010, Maine’s race is expected to go down to the wire and be the focus of heavy investments from national political groups, such as each party’s governors association.

Recent polling indicates Michaud holds a slight lead over Republican Gov. Paul LePage, but it’s within the poll’s margin of error. Independent Eliot Cutler, who nearly beat LePage in 2010, was a distant third in the poll.

Grassroots campaigning is largely credited for President Obama’s election in 2008. Maine Republicans deployed an effective ground game in 2010 to elect LePage and a Republican majority to the Legislature. The Democrats recovered in 2012 to retake the Legislature, but have consistently been at loggerheads with LePage.

This year, the Democrats seem to have the early organizational advantage, with a goal of opening a campaign office in each of Maine’s 16 counties.

After delivering a stump speech that called for expanding MaineCare – as Medicaid is called in Maine – investing in renewable energy and making Maine the food basket of New England, Michaud said Democrats would need a robust ground game if they want to retake the Blaine House.

“We will be outspent by the Republican Governors Association – we know that, but we have the people power,” Michaud said.

The Republican Governors Association, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, considers LePage to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents this election season. Christie came to Portland in May to stump for LePage and said the association is going to be “spending a lot of time and resources” in Maine.

In 2010, the DGA and the RGA combined spent roughly $1.5 million in Maine’s gubernatorial election, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The RGA outspent the DGA by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

Last week, the RGA said it planned to spend $100 million in gubernatorial elections in the final 100 days.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who heads the DGA, reiterated that Maine’s races will be a “top priority” for the DGA. He did not disclose any fundraising or spending goals when asked by a reporter.

One group supported by the DGA – the MaineForward PAC – has already booked $2 million in TV ads that are expected to run after Labor Day.

Patrick suggested that his action committee, the Together PAC, didn’t have a lot of money to invest in Maine, but would likely help with grassroots organizing.

In Saco, Patrick drew a contrast between Republican and Democratic philosophies, particularly when it comes to government assistance.

LePage has made welfare reform an issue throughout his first term and during his re-election campaign. A statement released in June by his office appeared to have classified Social Security and Medicare as welfare. LePage said later that he meant no such thing.

Patrick said that his family relied on welfare and housing assistance when he was a kid growing up on the south side of Chicago. That assistance, as well as a good education and access to an affordable doctor, helped him live the American Dream.

“Yes, it was welfare when my mother was flat out on her back. It was housing assistance when necessary – not as a way of life, but as a hand up,” Patrick said. “And it was a community that didn’t belittle and humiliate the weak and the meek.”

He added, “The difference in view and philosophy I am getting at here is we have to be about government that is not solving every problem in people’s lives, but helping people help themselves.”

After the event, Michaud’s campaign manager, Matt McTighe, implored Democrats to head to the Biddeford office to make calls and go out to knock on doors. “Today is the day we kick into high gear,” said Joe Hanslip, vice chairman of the York County Democratic Committee.

Before the Saco event, roughly 80 people attended a fundraiser with Michaud, Patrick and Shumlin in Portland, according to campaign staff. Admission to the reception and luncheon, held at the Cumberland Club, ranged from $100 to $1,500.

Afterward, all three New England Democrats stressed the importance of working together as a region to improve the economy, develop renewable energy and combat common problems, such as opioid abuse.

“We have to work collaboratively, and I am very disappointed in the fact that our current governor has not participated the way he should have been in the New England Governors Association,” Michaud said. “We have so much potential here in the state of Maine. As governor, I would definitely be working closely with New England-area governors.”

Shumlin attacked LePage for his office’s statement that appeared to categorize Social Security as welfare.

“Gov. LePage is not just embarrassing. It’s not just the things he says or his extremist views. He’s out of touch with most Mainers,” Shumlin said. “The scariest thing is how he thinks.”

Alex Willette, LePage’s campaign spokesman, said in a written statement that Michaud and his “liberal allies” are distorting the governor’s record.

“Governor LePage was in New Brunswick today forging increased economic relationships with Premier David Alward, working to build upon the more than 20,000 private sector jobs that have been created under the governor’s leadership,” Willette said. “The fact is, Maine ranks in the top three states in employment growth since the recession.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings