As the Lakes Region goes, so goes Maine, as record attendance at local Democratic caucuses Sunday led to overwhelming support for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., over Sen. Hillary Clinton, D- N.Y.

“We were told to expect a 30 percent increase from 2004,” said Lew Krainin, organizer of the Democratic caucus in Naples. “Instead we got three times the amount of people.”

Krainin’s words were echoed throughout the region, as was the enthusiasm for Obama over Clinton. In Naples, Obama drew 62 votes to 35 for Clinton and garnered five delegates to three for Clinton to the state Democratic convention, held May 30, to June 1, in Augusta.

Whether by five votes in Casco or 70 in New Gloucester, Obama swept through the region as all towns reported turnouts exceeding the highest expectations.

It was fantastic, it was so crowded it was amazing,” said David Hilton a caucus organizer in New Gloucester.

Windham caucus organizer Michael Shaughnessy reported registration forms for new voters ran out as approxiimately 350 people attended the caucus there.

The Maine Democratic Party said Monday that statewide caucus attendance was more than 45,000, more than double the then-record turnout of 17,000 in 2004. In the state, Obama earned 59 percent of the vote to 40 percent for Clinton.

Obama delegates to the state convention outnumber Clinton’s 2,084 to 1,392.

Now for Obama, always for a Democrat

Union supporter George Gratto, 59, of Windham, said he was strongly leaning toward supporting Obama and agrees with him on issues like the war, but will vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is in the general election.

Before retiring, Gratto worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service and served as the union national vice president for a decade. Gratto stood out at the Windham Democratic Caucus in his INS baseball cap and a black T-shirt that read, “I still hate George Bush,”

“It was the cleanest one I could find,” said Gratto. He resents the president for dismantling the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 2003 and giving its functions to the Department of Homeland Security.

Gratto said the most important issue for him is the candidates’ stances on American workers. He was behind Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. before he dropped out of the race because of his support of workers, solid background and his ability to nominate good judges to the Supreme Court.

“I don’t understand a system that will force a man like Christopher Dodd or Joe Biden to drop out before a single ballot is cast,” he said.

Gratto grew up in Portland, and in 1964 he was the vice president of the Democrat club at Chevrus high school. He was also active in a club at the University of Maine at Orono that supported Bobby Kennedy for president in 1968 and campaigned for John Kerry in 2004.

“It’s hard to be active in either party today,” said Gratto. He said extremists on both sides are running rampant all over the political landscape.

“People don’t think for themselves anymore,” he said. “They think what Rush Limbaugh or Oprah tells them to think.”

“I’m a Democrat despite some of the loony liberal nonsense,” he said. He said he’s been yelled at during Democratic rallies for disagreeing on issues like abortion.

When asked about Obama’s decision to not wear an American flag lapel pin, Gratto said it reminds him of a trip to a pharmacy he took after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and three months before his wife died of cancer.

Gratto went to pick up his wife’s prescriptions and saw a basket of flag pins for sale on the counter. He picked one up and saw it had an American flag emblem on the front and a made in China sticker on the back.

“That sums it all up right there,” he said. He said flag lapel pins are a poor substitute for supporting America.

Michael Hartwell

A change of heart

Jeff Doucette was one of 773 residents who lined up outside Cape Elizabeth High School’s cafeteria Sunday for the town’s Democratic caucus.

A 23-year-old political science major at the University of Southern Maine, Doucette was excited to participate in his first caucus.

“It’s a great opportunity to interact with people and share ideas and hopefully learn a little bit,” Doucette said.

Doucette, who had campaigned for Obama, changed his mind just weeks prior to the caucus.

“Although Obama is a charismatic speaker, I felt that Clinton ultimately is a more experienced fighter in the political arena,” he said.

Doucette thinks she is “not afraid to take on tough issues,” and she is cut out for the job of “building America’s reputation back up with foreign countries.” He also supports her plan for universal health care.

“Hillary believes in health care for everyone, whereas Obama supports affordable health care for those who want it,” Doucette said. “I believe everyone should have health care, regardless of whether they think they want it or not.”

Doucette said he was also swayed by Clinton’s promises to create more public funding for higher education and developing better low-interest loans for education.

“I had a friend who worked with me on Ethan Strimling’s campaign (for the 1st Congressional District), who had to drop out of University of Maine at Fort Kent because he couldn’t afford the tuition anymore,” Doucette said. “I also transferred from Northeastern to University of Southern Maine for financial reasons.”

Doucette also had the Iraq war on his mind while voting. “Clinton is in support of bringing the troops home,” Doucette said. “Although it bothered me that she supported the Iraq war initially, I can understand why she voted that way at the time.”

Doucette has been active on the campaign trail, initially for Obama and also for Strimling.

“There are a lot of issues that are important to me, and I want to be a part of the decision-making process,” Doucette said.

Mercedes Grandin

A destination

Clinton was joined by her husband, former President Bill Clinton and their daughter Chelsea in visiting Maine from Feb. 7, through Feb. 10, and Obama made stops in Bangor and Old Town Saturday.

With a picture of Bill Clinton in one hand and a “Hillary for president” sign in the other, Scarborough resident Donna Shine was first in line at the Portland Expo Feb. 7 waiting for the former president to speak in support of his wife’s campaign.

Bundled in a shawl with her husband close behind her, Shine waited in the cold for more than two hours to secure a front-row spot at the rally.

“I’m just so honored to be able to vote for her,” Shine said. “A woman and a Clinton, what a great package.”

In his speech in Portland, the former president refrained from criticizing Obama, after being accused earlier in the campaign of unfairly attacking his wife’s opponent. Clinton had characterized Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war as a “fairy tale.”

Clinton briefly touched on his wife’s plan to end the war in Iraq and drew an emphatic round of applause from the crowd after reiterating her support for the soldiers who are still fighting.

“She will not abandon Iraqi veterans,” Clinton said, adding that she feels veterans from the Vietnam War were forgotten by the government.

“You are voting in a historic election,” Clinton said. “Americans are aching to go forward.”

Kate Power

New Gloucester resident Peter Turner was one of many supporters of Sen. Barack Obama (D. – Ill.) to cast a vote at the Democratic caucus Sunday. Obama handily defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton (D. – N.Y.) throughout the Lakes Region and state as voters came out in record numbers.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.