AUGUSTA – A tea party tempest is losing steam in Maine, which prides itself on its independence and moderation.

Inspired by tea partiers, Maine Republicans adopted a party platform last month that drew attention nationally, with planks calling for the elimination of the Department of Education, a reference to global warming as a “myth” and a declaration that health care “is not a right. It is a service.”

But the Republican candidates for governor have backed away from the platform, which replaced a pro-forma document up for adoption at the state convention.

That ambivalence creates a mixed bag for tea partiers, who advocate little government interference in citizens’ affairs — a concept that’s attractive to many Democrats and Republicans but one that has been overshadowed by some of the movement’s louder voices.

In a state that favors centrists, adhering to a rigid platform may be a turnoff to voters who will choose party nominees Tuesday.

After the convention, Democrats demanded that the seven Republican candidates repudiate it. None did, but most later expressed reservations, parsed their words or simply sidestepped inquiries.

“I support the spirit behind the new platform, though the letter of the document does leave room for improvement,” said conservative candidate Bill Beardsley.

The most moderate of the GOP candidates, Peter Mills, borrowed tea party rhetoric to defend his belief that health care is indeed a right, calling it “a part of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“That platform is an expression of anger about government,” Mills said. “And what I’m seeing as I visit with people in their homes and in their kitchens is, even moderate voters are fed up, they’re frustrated, they’re exasperated. And they don’t think that they’re getting value for their tax dollars.”

How much influence they will have among registered Republicans and Democrats is unknown.

“I don’t think anybody can say with any degree of certainty how big the movement is and how united they are,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.

But Brewer and others are sure that the tea partiers will be voting.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rosa Scarcelli says the tea party movement isn’t just a Republican phenomenon, but also a reflection of frustration by Democrats who feel disenfranchised, said Dennis Bailey, a worker for her campaign.

Scarcelli has staked out the right and the outsider’s role in the four-way Democratic race. The other three are government insiders — Senate President Libby Mitchell, former Attorney General Steve Rowe and Pat McGowan, a former legislator and Maine conservation commissioner.

The seven-way Republican primary bridges the political spectrum, from Waterville Mayor Paul LePage to Mills, a state senator. The others are Beardsley, Steve Abbott, Matt Jacobson, Bruce Poliquin and Les Otten. Most stress themes of reducing state government and creating jobs — and avoid references to the party platform.


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