LEWISTON — In a series of stem-winding speeches, Maine Democrats hoping to be their party’s nominee in the election for governor this November made their pitches to the party faithful Saturday at the Democratic State Convention.

Voters will choose the Democratic and Republican nominees for the Blaine House in primary elections set for June 12.

But Saturday before a crowd of about 2,000 people at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, the seven Democratic candidates – one of them via video – got their first chance to address a big crowd and test out their most fiery rhetoric as they tried to distinguish themselves and at the same time show party unity.

“I fight like a girl,” candidate and former state Rep. Diane Russell of Portland told the crowd as she promised to defend many of the recent ballot box laws passed by voters, including ranked-choice voting, which will be used for the first time in the June primaries.

Candidate Betsy Sweet, a lobbyist from Hallowell and the only Democratic candidate in the race running as a publicly financed Clean Election candidate, said her campaign was about getting money of out of politics.

“The reason we haven’t drained the swamp is because we haven’t pulled the plug, and that plug is money in politics,” Sweet said to a cheering crowd.

The candidates had similar themes, expressing support for progressive values such as Medicaid expansion for low-income Mainers, stronger gun control laws, higher wages for the working class, help for graduates struggling with student debt, and support for women’s rights, including the right to seek an abortion and equal pay for equal work.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills urged the audience to reject the politics of “fear and division” and to embrace the politics of “trust, hope and love.”

“There are those who are willing to exploit the politics of fear to get ahead,” Mills said, “to tell us we can solve our problems by finding some scapegoat, whether they are immigrants, the poor and, in fairness, students, LGBTQ folks, and racial and religious minorities. … And I say to you today a victory using those methods is no victory at all.”

But one of Mills’ Democratic rivals, state Sen. Mark Dion of Portland, told the audience Mainers couldn’t eat “hope.”

“We can’t pour hope into our gas tanks,” Dion said. “They don’t take hope at the cash register of the grocery store. If the next leader of our state is going to come from our party, then Democrats must be prepared to offer more than hope.”

Dion said what the common people of Maine needed was not hope but power.

Former House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, who works as a family therapist and counselor, said his skills would be valuable in the wake of Maine’s firebrand Republican governor, Paul LePage.

“And if there is ever a time we need a family therapist in state government, it is after eight years of Paul LePage,” Eves said.

Just a day after another deadly school shooting, this time in Texas, all of the candidates spoke up for stronger gun control laws. But Adam Cote, a Sanford attorney, said nobody could match his record on guns. Cote, a 20-year combat veteran of the Maine National Guard, said he would work to build common ground on common-sense gun control measures, including limiting access to assault-style weapons and requiring background checks for all gun sales in Maine.

Cote said while he owned many guns and comes from a family with a hunting tradition – including a grandfather who was a Maine hunting guide – he also has five children who have been subjected to active shooter drills in their schools.

“We can bring people together on this issue,” Cote said. “We can respect our hunting heritage in this state without allowing people to have the same firepower I had in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Only one of the seven Democratic candidates running for the governor’s office did not address the delegates at the convention in person. Former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion presented her address by prerecorded video because she was attending her granddaughter’s college graduation on Saturday. Dion laid out her resume as mayor and the work she did in the private sector in asking delegates for their support.

The convention’s keynote speaker, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said Democrats were well poised to take power away from Republicans in 2018, even hinting that if they won the majority in Congress it could be a way to remove President Trump from office.

The Founding Fathers didn’t write any provisions in the Constitution to prevent a person like Trump from being elected president, “but they did guarantee us a way for us to get rid of him,” Castro said to applause and cheers.

Maine Republicans criticized the Democrats’ positions and their candidates on Saturday.

“From their platform to their roster of candidates, today we will see Maine Democrats embrace socialism and extremism as they make a boat load of promises they can’t afford and probably have no intention to keep,” Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said in a prepared statement.


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