AUGUSTA — Unemployment, gas prices and President Barack Obama’s disapproval ratings are high, but Democratic caucusgoers expressed optimism on Sunday in looking ahead to November’s elections.

With no major challengers, Obama was virtually assured of winning the presidential preference vote, the results of which will be released next month. Caucuses focused instead on local party business and appeals for support from candidates in down-ballot races including for Congress, the Maine Legislature and local posts.

“I think it’s so important to bring back both the (Maine) House and Senate into Democratic hands so we can focus on things that really matter to Mainers,” Rep. Sharon Treat said in Hallowell, where about 15 voters caucused.

Being in the minority, Democrats are spending their energy to stop “the absolute worst” of the Republicans’ proposals, Treat said, including more extreme cuts in MaineCare and the erosion of protections for workers and the environment.

Caucusgoers said they are motivated to bring change to Augusta.

Joe Kane, 57, said he has been a registered Democrat since he was 18, but Augusta’s caucus on Sunday was the first one he had attended.

“The governor’s got us Democrats really fired up this year,” Kane said.

Eleanor Gay, a 62-year-old ed tech at the Capital Area Technical Center, said that working to elect Democrats to the Maine Legislature was her main reason for attending the caucus at Cony High School, where about 40 voters participated.

While the Democrats aren’t perfect, Gay said, “It seems more than ever that the Republicans are the party of business and power.”

She said she wants to see policymakers start infrastructure projects to put people to work.

Treat cited the recent election of Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, as a reason for optimism. Johnson won a seat long held by Republicans, in a race in which he was heavily outspent.

Treat warned, however, that Democrats will have to work hard to raise money, recruit good candidates and turn out the vote.

“Don’t think everybody out there doesn’t like the governor,” she said. “He has a lot of supporters. And we need to work very hard and not take anything for granted.”

Caucusgoers said Obama’s re-election campaign won’t be easy, but they think he’ll win. Many said the drawn-out and contentious race for the Republican nomination will help the president.

“As long as the Republicans enjoy fighting one another, it makes us look a lot stronger and ready to unite behind Obama,” said David Rand, a 31-year-old Hannaford employee who caucused in Augusta.

Jane Moore, 62, a Riverview Psychiatric Center employee and veterinary technician student from Hallowell, said Obama has accomplished more than he often receives credit for. She likes the health insurance reform law Obama signed.

“The agenda that he’s pushing is economics, and the Republicans are getting bogged down in some social issues that don’t really belong in the political arena,” Moore said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

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