AUGUSTA — As Maine’s gubernatorial race grows increasingly heated, Republican hopeful Ken Fredette told delegates to the Republican State Convention on Saturday, “This is going to be a war, folks.”

The 1,600 delegates who gathered at the Augusta Civic Center this weekend could at least take heart that the volleys lobbed toward the enemy were just about always aimed at Democrats.

The party showed little sign of internal rancor a month before the June 12 primary that will decide which of four contenders will serve as the Republican standard-bearer in the November contest to succeed two-term Gov. Paul LePage.

Two of the four – state Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew – displayed strong support on the floor of the convention. Another, businessman Shawn Moody of Gorham, got an endorsement from Ann LePage, the governor’s wife, lending more credence to the idea he may be the governor’s favorite.

LePage, however, steered clear of displaying a preference in his address to the convention.

He said that what’s important is that one of the four Republicans seeking to replace him winds up in the Blaine House.

“We need a Republican,” LePage said. “We cannot have Janet Mills. We need a governor that is not going to be loose with the truth. We need honesty.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, tosses a camouflage Republican baseball hat to the crowd following her speech at the Maine Republican Convention on Saturday in Augusta. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

Mills, the Democratic attorney general who is also running for governor, vied with the city of Portland as the Republicans’ favorite target in Maine, though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., absorbed more potshots Saturday than anyone else.

Mayhew succeeded during her rousing address in slamming both Mills and the state’s largest city.

“Janet Mills cannot have the keys to the Blaine House. The socialists in Portland cannot take over our state,” Mayhew said to cheers.

LePage told the crowd that he would like Mills to win the Democratic primary next month “so we can kick her right out of politics” by defeating her in the general election.

Michael Ambler, Mills’ campaign manager, said Saturday it’s obvious the Republicans know the attorney general is “the biggest threat” to their hopes of retaining the governorship in November because of her track record of holding LePage accountable.

Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said in a prepared statement that the Republicans vying for Maine’s top job “doubled-down on Paul LePage’s failed policies and all but pledged to be four more years of his administration” as they sought to “out-LePage” one another.

Mayhew proved most vociferous in her bid to claim LePage’s mantle.

“I will not allow the LePage legacy and our great work to go up in flames,” she declared.

Mayhew said she’ll push for more work requirements for able-bodied welfare recipients and a crackdown on illegal immigration.

She vowed that when she is governor, illegal aliens “will get a knock on the door” from federal agents, “with Maine State Police standing with them shoulder to shoulder.”

Moody touted his business record as a job creator in the style of both LePage and President Trump. He promised to do more to help businesses thrive with less red tape and lower taxes.

He also said welfare recipients should be drug-tested – and so should politicians in Augusta.

Mason, majority leader in the Maine Senate, delivered a paean to the Pine Tree State’s history in his particularly polished speech, pointing to many examples from the past of Mainers who dreamed big and played major roles in forging the nation.

He said LePage and the Republicans who took legislative office with him in 2010 began to restore the conditions that once made Maine stand out. He said continuing to change policies to limit government, lower taxes and spread freedom will make it so Maine can “lead the world once again.”

“We can dream big again,” he said. “I need you to come with me on an incredible journey.”

The speech by Fredette, minority leader in the Maine House, was almost stunningly low-key as he paced around the stage with a microphone talking conversationally about his career, with no cheering entourage or signs. He only mentioned that he was running for governor at the tail end of the talk, which mostly focused on his own life and what he views as the success of the House Republicans.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican incumbent who is not on the ballot again until 2020, said her party has a “terrific group” of contenders for the governor’s office this year. She said the convention was “a great way to kick off” a campaign that’s going to need a lot of enthusiasm.

Delegates and several hundred more visitors also heard from candidates for the U.S. House and Senate.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, speaks during the Maine Republican Convention on Saturday in Augusta. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a two-term Republican from the 2nd District, never mentioned any of the challengers who hope to snatch his seat come November. Instead, he warned in a high-energy address about “extreme San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi and her extreme liberal plans here in Maine.”

He warned party loyalists they “cannot hand over the keys to Pelosi and her crew.”

Poliquin told the crowd he is focused on bolstering the economy to ensure there are more good-paying jobs, four times citing instances in which he “fought tooth and nail” to deliver successfully for his constituents.

His consultant, Brent Littlefield, warned supporters before they headed to the convention floor to wave signs and applaud – and not to take the campaign lightly.

“It’s going to be a brutal, brutal election,” Littlefield told them, with the Democrats likely to pour resources into the race.

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Mark Holbrook, the Republican challenger taking on Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in the 1st District, said she’s “to the left of Bernie Sanders” and “a disaster for our country.”

He said Maine’s junior U.S. senator, independent Angus King, “is the biggest fraud in American politics.”

The Auburn state senator who hopes to defeat King this November, Republican Eric Brakey, warned that “we’re coming to take our government back” from “the Washington kings” who have grown bloated by “stealing from the rest of us.”

Brakey said the one group that King is actually independent from is “us, the Maine people.”

The Democrats hold their convention in Lewiston in two weeks.

Steve Collins can be contacted at:

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