Wednesday May 16, 2012 | 12:27 PM

SOUTH PORTLAND — The four Democrats running for Maine’s open U.S. Senate gathered at a Portland Regional Chamber meeting this morning to talk about small business, health care, taxes and energy.

But, first they had to confront the inevitable question: “How are you going to beat Angus King?”

“I asked for questions from the audience and it was the question I got from everybody,” moderator Chris Hall said apologetically.

The former governor and independent Senate candidate has been a recurring topic at Democratic and Republican gatherings. And the Democratic candidates showed Tuesday there are different ideas about how best to take on the frontrunner.

1.  Go after King’s record. State Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, is in this camp.

Dill said she would compare her record of creating jobs and promoting economic justice with King’s veto of a minimum wage increase, opposition to an expansion of family medical leave and policies that weakened labor unions and left the state in a fiscal mess.

“When it comes to a record, I don’t believe Gov. King has a record,” Dill said.

2. Stay positive. Former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap made the case for this strategy, saying Maine voters want to hear how he would restore prosperity, not negative attacks against the other guy. Dunlap said he would have run against Sen. Olympia Snowe the same way.

“People were far more interested in their future than they were in her past,” he said.

3. Exploit weaknesses. State Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, said King benefits from the frustration with hyper-partisanship in Washington, but he would focus the discussion on the influence of wealthy business interests. (King happens to be a wealthy businessman.)

“The degree to which private wealthy vested interests dominate politics today hasn’t been addressed yet,” Hinck said. “We need to focus on that.”

4. Offer something completely different. Businessman Benjamin Pollard described himself as an unabashed, starry-eyed idealist with no political experience who could inspire new voters.

“Bring people into the political process who are not in the process now,” he said.

5. Cross your fingers. No one actually proposed this strategy, although Dunlap did point out that King has still not officially entered the race. As an independent, King isn’t required to file nomination petition until June 1.
 

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Open Season is your guide to the 2014 campaign. Our team of political writers has its sights set on Maine’s major elections, from the Blaine House to the U.S. Capitol.

Steve Mistler is covering the 2014 governor's race. He covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.
Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @stevemistler

Eric Russell is covering Independent Eliot Cutler during the 2014 governor's race. He is a general assignment reporter for the Portland Press Herald.
Eric can be reached at 791-6344 or erussell@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @pphericrussell

Matt Byrne is covering Republican Paul LePage during the 2014 governor's race. He covers Falmouth, Cumberland, North Yarmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport for the Portland Press Herald.
Matt can be reached at 791-6303 or mbyrne@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @mattbyrnePPH

Randy Billings is covering Democrat Mike Michaud during the 2014 governor's race. He covers Portland City Hall for the Portland Press Herald.
Randy can be reached at 791-6346 or rbillings@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @randybillings

Kevin Miller is covering Maine's U.S. Senate race and 1st Congressional District race. He covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @kevinmillerdc

Michael Shepherd is covering Maine's 2nd Congressional District race. He is a news and State House reporter for the Kennebec Journal.
Michael can be reached at 621-5632 or mshepherd@centralmaine.com
On Twitter: @mikeshepherdME

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