AUGUSTA – Maine’s top Democrats drew cheers from hundreds of party activists Friday by vowing to reverse losses in the 2010 elections with victories this fall, as the Maine Democratic convention opened at the Augusta Civic Center.

“Together, we can make sure that Democrats win back Congress, we can win back the state Legislature here in Maine and we can send Barack Obama back to the White House for four more years,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District.

“The last two years have been very difficult for our party,” said Rep. Mike Michaud, who represents the 2nd District. He warned that Republicans will fight hard to keep control, but said, “Maine Democrats know something about how to win tough fights.”

Pingree and Michaud headlined the convention’s opening day. More than 1,000 delegates are expected to attend the three-day unity rally to hear speeches by party leaders and congressional candidates, and to elect national delegates and national committee members.

With Democrats unified behind President Obama’s re-election campaign, there was no battle for control of the convention like the one between supporters of Ron Paul and Mitt Romney at last month’s Republican convention in the same hall.

State Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, was elected chair of the convention, as planned.

The only angry rhetoric Friday was aimed at Republicans, especially Gov. Paul LePage, who got a standing ovation at the GOP convention when he called for deeper welfare cuts and said able-bodied people should “get off the couch.”

“I think that (Republican) convention helped to unify this convention,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, as delegates filed in Friday afternoon.

State Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said the party is more energized than it was two years ago. “Twenty months after our worst defeat, we have turned things around and we are ready to take Maine back in 2012,” he said.

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, fired up the crowd with a red-meat speech about Democratic values and fighting Republican policies that hurt working people, children and senior citizens.

“Since Paul LePage and the majority have been in power, we’ve seen children, women and the elderly targeted,” Jackson said. “Well I’ve got a message for you, Paul LePage. You may have pulled up the ladder after you climbed it, but the opportunity should be in place for everyone … Brothers and sisters, we are going to go forth and we are going to win in November, and when we do, we will make damn sure the ladder is available to everyone.”

Pingree and Michaud, both of whom are seeking re-election this fall, said it’s critical for Democrats to take back control of the Maine Legislature. The Republican majority is cutting taxes for the wealthy and using the revenue loss as an excuse to cut programs for working families and the poor, Pingree said. “There’s a tremendous amount at stake in this election,” she said.

Pingree and Michaud also said they are working to put a Democratic majority back in Congress.

Pingree, who did not mention her re-election race, said Republicans are working to restrict abortion rights, overturn health care reforms and eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Michaud said he is fighting for veterans’ services and for a bill to require America’s military uniforms to be made in America, something that could create shoemaking jobs in Maine.

“Despite the gridlock, I’m continuing to work hard for our values,” he said.

Michaud referred to his likely Democratic opponent, state Sen. Kevin Raye, whose family owns a mustard-making business. He said his opponent recently said Michaud’s record doesn’t cut the mustard.

“Let me tell you this, I relish the opportunity to put up my record of fighting for hardworking families against his record of fighting for special interests any day of the week. He’s got a lot of catching up to do if he’s going to beat my record.”

Today, Democrats will hear from the party’s four candidates in the June 12 U.S. Senate primary. They also will hear a keynote address from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is considered a potential presidential candidate for 2016.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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