AUGUSTA — U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and the six Republicans who want to replace her will highlight the Maine Republican State Convention this weekend in Augusta.

With the GOP trying to hold on to both houses of the Legislature, it was already an important election year for the party. Then Snowe decided in February not to run for re-election, making a contest out of what had been considered an all-but-guaranteed Republican victory, and making it less likely the party will gain control of the U.S. Senate. The race for her seat has drawn national attention.

“Olympia is still a rock star in the state of Maine,” said Jan Love, Cumberland County GOP chairwoman. “I have never, ever been with her that people don’t clamor to see her. I think Maine is losing something important.”

Snowe’s address to the convention Sunday no doubt will be a highlight for many Republicans. Snowe, who was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1973 and became a national figure as a moderate U.S. senator, cited increasing partisanship in Washington as her reason for dropping out of the race.

Although Snowe still is working on her speech, she will “touch on the importance of Republican principles in restoring America’s economic prosperity,” her spokesman, John Richter, wrote in an email.

About 3,000 delegates are expected to attend the convention — 1,000 more than two years ago. GOP convention organizer Ruth Summers said the increase reflects the party’s desire to retain control of the Legislature.

“In the last two years, the Republican Party has been motivated to ensure we have majorities in November,” said Summers, of Scarborough, who is running for state Senate District 6 and is married to U.S. Senate hopeful Charlie Summers, Maine’s secretary of state.

It’s also a presidential year, and Republicans are anxious to show their support for nominee Mitt Romney and for Ron Paul, who finished second in the party’s state caucus in February, she said. Maine will send 21 delegates to the national GOP convention in Florida in August, likely a blend of Romney, Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum supporters, Summers said.

That’s really the nuts-and-bolts part of the convention, Love said.

“I am most looking forward to nominating delegates to the convention to vote for Mitt Romney,” Love said. “He’s the best possibility we have to defeat Barack Obama in November.”

A Romney surrogate will be keynote speaker Saturday night, but who that will be hadn’t been confirmed last week, Summers said.

The six GOP candidates for Snowe’s seat will each give a 20-minute speech before the 3,000 attendees, the largest crowd any of them is likely to see before the June 12 primary.

In addition to Summers, the field includes state Attorney General William Schneider, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, former state Senate President Rick Bennett, state Sen. Debra Plowman and businessman Scott D’Amboise.

GOP candidates for Maine’s two congressional seats will speak Saturday. Senate Majority Leader Jonathan Courtney and businessman Patrick Calder of Portland are seeking the 1st District nomination to run against incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree. Senate President Kevin Raye and Blaine Richardson, of Belfast, are competing for the 2nd District nomination to run against incumbent Democrat Mike Michaud.

Gov. Paul LePage is scheduled to speak Sunday, just before Snowe takes the stage.

Party Chairman Charlie Webster said the convention will give a new batch of Republican leaders a place in the spotlight.

“It will give us a chance to showcase our six Senate candidates,” he said.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

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