CHELSEA — Hundreds of Republicans, some of them newly minted, stood in lines Saturday morning inside and outside Chelsea Elementary School, waiting patiently for their chance to weigh in on Republican presidential candidates.

By Saturday afternoon, some 1,475 of them cast ballots in the Kennebec County GOP caucus. The vote totals, all unofficial, were posted Saturday afternoon on the door of the school.

The vote split largely between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, with 759, who campaigned Friday in Orono; and Donald Trump, with 461, who appeared at a rally Thursday in Portland. Both men’s names appeared prominently on stickers and T-shirts worn by people at the school.

While there were no obvious signs of supporters of Marco Rubio or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, those two garnered votes as well, with Rubio polling 87 and Kasich getting 146.

Early arrivals at the caucus managed to squeeze into the cafeteria area to hear speeches by Gov. Paul LePage and 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin before the two, who are Kennebec County residents, cast their ballots.

LePage stumped unabashedly for Trump, saying he was second choice to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who halted his campaign and threw his weight behind Trump. “I realized it was not the year of the governors, because the governors are considered establishment,” LePage said.


LePage decried both Cruz of Texas and Rubio of Florida, saying he didn’t want another junior U.S. senator in the White House to follow Barack Obama, saying the skill sets for a senator were different from those of an executive.

And he said Kasich can’t win because he, too, is a governor.

LePage said he favors Trump because he is outside the establishment, adding, “He’ll challenge everyone and everybody,” and because dealing with a $19 trillion national debt takes “a businessman who understands finances.”

LePage talked about the loss of several hundred potential highly paid mining jobs in Aroostook County, blaming the loss on lobbying efforts by the Natural Resources Council of Maine in his lead-up to endorsing Trump.

“I think it’s time we step up and we get someone like myself who’s in business, who is a tough negotiator, who is not going to be under the thumb of special interests or the lobbyists; and most of all, he’s not going to be afraid of the liberal press in America,” LePage said, winning cheers and applause for that statement. He got a laugh, too, when he added, “You can’t even trust their obituaries.”

The lights in the large room went off twice as Poliquin and LePage spoke, the latter quipping, “You’ve got to pay your bills, guys; you’ve got to pay the school bills here.”


For a while, LePage exchanged remarks with Cruz supporter James Mosher, of Winslow, at one point offering Mosher the microphone, which Mosher declined.

Later, Mosher said that while he voted twice for LePage for governor, he preferred Cruz over Trump for the White House job.

“We’re living in a time that desperately needs personal integrity, men who will stand up to be personally responsible, men who stand on principle,” Mosher said, adding that both he and his wife are Navy veterans, and citing the Navy’s core values of “honor, courage, commitment.”

“That means something to me, and I think that will rectify the morass we’re in,” Mosher said.

LePage warned Republicans about party division.

“Everything that’s going on right now is helping Hillary Clinton,” he said. Clinton, former secretary of state and U.S. senator from New York, is competing with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.


LePage urged those listening “to convince more people to register Republican, but not only register but think Republican, think lower taxes, better jobs, better prosperity,” saying that would help turn the state Republican red in 2017-2018.

Poliquin took a more pragmatic approach in his remarks, never clearly naming a favorite among GOP presidential hopefuls.

“When this is done, I am going to support somebody who believes that we need to have more jobs, lower taxes, fewer regulations, less government spending, less debts and a strong national defense,” Poliquin said. He urged party unity as well, saying, “We need to get behind our presidential nominee, whoever it is.”

He also spoke of his own political future, saying his seat has been targeted by the national Democratic Party, and urging people to sign his nominating petition if they live in the 2nd Congressional District. The dividing line between the 1st and 2nd districts meanders through Kennebec County.

“Look at this turnout,” Poliquin said. “This is not by accident. We are angry. We are upset. We’re disappointed. We’re disappointed with the status quo, and we’ve got to continue to fight to change that. I will do that.”

The ballot itself listed nine names plus a write-in line, but most of the others already had dropped out. Every candidate listed got at least one vote.


Kim Pettengill, chief caucus warden for the Maine Republican Party, said she printed 80,000 ballots for Maine Republicans for Saturday. “I based it on a 30 percent voter turnout,” she said.

Kennebec County GOP numbers were to be added Saturday night to those from all across Maine at a gathering in Lewiston. The final result will bind the state party’s 23 delegates to the national convention on the first ballot, according to Mark Ellis, a former state Republic Party chairman.

Maine Democrats are scheduled to caucus across the state Sunday by municipality rather than by county.

“I will be voting for Donald Trump because I believe he has a chance to win,” said Chris Sample, of Augusta, as he stood in one of the lines snaking around the gymnasium in order to enter the smaller room where the ballots were cast. He looked around the room and said he had talked to a number of people who had not seen anything like it previously. Sample said he was formerly a member of the Republican State Committee.

Robert Estes, of Sidney, said he had hoped to hear from the candidates’ spokespeople before votes were cast and was disappointed that was not the case.

Lou Ferguson, also of Sidney, wore a Trump T-shirt proudly. “He’s not the establishment,” Ferguson said. “You’ve heard it before.”


Wendy Merrill, of Benton, planned to cast her ballot for Cruz. “I love his values, and we need somebody with values who will take a stand before we lose the country,” she said.

“It’s kind of a circus this year,” said Laura Flanagan, 32, one of 20 unrolled voters who affiliated with the Republican Party on Saturday, at a table staffed by deputy city clerks from Augusta. “I feel like I need to do something. I worry about the direction we’re going in right now.” She, like Poliquin, declined to name her presidential choice.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

Twitter: @betadams

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