The Maine Republican Party will sponsor nine U.S. Senate candidate forums around the state over the next nine weeks.

It’s an unusual series of campaign events that GOP leaders hope will allow the party’s six primary candidates to reach a statewide audience in an unusually short time frame. The June 12 primary is just 10 weeks away, yet most of the candidates had not even considered running until Sen. Olympia Snowe announced her retirement just under a month ago.

“There’s such a short period of time,” said Charlie Webster, state GOP chairman. Candidates won’t be able to get to a lot of the smaller community forums that are more typical of statewide campaigns in Maine, he said.

“This way, there will be a larger turnout. We’ll spend a little money to advertise and hopefully a couple hundred people will show up to (each of) these forums,” Webster said. Webster said he expects the candidates to attend these regional forums to allow time to fundraise and organize.

“These candidates are going to have a to raise a lot of money in a short period,” Webster said.

The forums will look somewhat like the GOP’s presidential primary debates, with moderators and audience members asking questions of the six Republican Senate candidates. Volunteers helping to set up the events created a website — www.GOPforME.com — to publicize the forums and gather questions from voters.

The first forum will be held next Thursday in Presque Isle. Most of the other events will be held on Friday nights.

“Word is going to get around real fast. It already is on the grapevine in Aroostook County,” said Hayes Gahagan, chairman of the county’s Republican Committee. Gahagan said he expects 200 to 300 people to attend the forum next week. He also expects candidates to come up for other events, too.

Secretary of State Charlie Summers has already met with the Aroostook County Republican Committee, and former state Senator Rick Bennett and state Treaurer Bruce Poiliquin have asked to speak to the party leaders there soon, he said.

Summers and Poliquin are well-known in the county already after speaking to community s there over the past year, Gahagan said.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, isn’t planning any formal series of debates. Its primary candidates don’t have the same challenge as the Republicans.

The four Democratic candidates were all campaigning well before Snowe made her announcement.

“They’ve been out and about for months,” said Lizzy Reinholdt, spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party.

Local groups, including county Democratic committees, are planning local forums and debates, Reinholdt said.

The four Democratic U.S. Senate candidates will have their first formal debate in Portland on Saturday. The Portland Club will be hosting the forum from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Most of the Democratic candidates also are scheduled to appear at a League of Young Voters forum April 15 at Lucid Stage in Portland.

The six Republican candidates running in the June 12 primary are former State Sen. Rick Bennett, businessman Scott D’Amboise, State Sen. Debra Plowman, State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, Attorney General William Schneider, and Secretary of State Charlie Summers.

The four Democratic primary candidates are State Sen. Cynthia Dill, former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, State Rep. Jon Hinck and Benjamin Pollard, a Portland businessman.

Former Maine Gov. Angus King is among the independents who have said they’re running.

John Richardson — 620-7016

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Maine Republican Party’s U.S. Senate Candidate Forums

Weekday forums will begin at 6 p.m., while the Saturday forum will start at 1 p.m. Venues for most forums are still being worked out. For more information go to: GOPforME.com.

Aroostoock County: Thursday, April 5, at 6 p.m. at the Presque Isle Inn and Convention Center.

Kennebec Regional: Friday, April 13

Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset Regional: Friday, April 20

Lincoln, Knox and Waldo Regional: Friday, April 27

Cumberland and Sagadahoc Regional: Wednesday, May 2

York Regional: Wednesday, May 9

Washington Regional: Friday, May 11

Hancock Regional: Saturday, May 12

Androscoggin, Oxford, and Franklin Regional: Saturday, May 19

The first debate for Democratic U.S. Senate candidates will be in Portland on Saturday. The Portland Club will host the debate from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.


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