AUGUSTA — The seven Democrats running for Congress in the 2nd District struck different themes Saturday at the Maine Democratic Convention, but agreed that ultimately, their common foe was the Republicans.
Jim Mitchell of Bangor, John Baldacci of Bangor and Janet Mills of Wilton had the loudest, biggest floor demonstrations, befitting their status as apparent leaders in the primary field.
But Mary Cathcart of Orono, Jim Howaniec of Lewiston and Jean Hay of Blue Hill each had bands of devoted followers, and Shawn Hallisey of Machiasport had a friendly reception.
Baldacci’s floor rally, featuring signs, balloons and a small band playing the “Maine Stein Song,” was slightly bigger than the others. Dozens of supporters chanted, “Go, John, go!”
But Mitchell’s speech to the convention may have been the most effective. Mitchell was almost Kennedyesque in his rhetoric and delivery. He praised the ideals of the Democratic Party and denigrated the positions of the Republicans.
“Democrats help lift the human spirit,” he said. “Democrats help millions of Americans hold onto hope.”
Of Republicans, Mitchell said, “Theirs is a campaign that says the way things were is better than the way things might be.”
In an emotional moment, Baldacci said his hero was his late father, Robert Baldacci, who helped build the modern Democratic Party in Maine.
“I have heard the diverse voices that make up this district,” said Baldacci, “and as your next congressman, your voice will be heard in Washington.”
Baldacci said it was time for Maine to join the national economic recovery and reverse the outflow of young people from the state.
“Our most immediate need is to create quality jobs for our people,” he said.
Cathcart was greeted by a good number of supporters waving green-and-white signs.
“I began the campaign last November. I was willing to face the challenge of running against the eight-term incumbent (Rep. Olympia J. Snowe),” said Cathcart. “I’ve dedicated myself to listening to the people, not the special interests.”
Cathcart devoted most of her speech to the need to reform the health care system. She supports a single-payer system in which the government would be sole insurer, but providers like hospitals would remain in private hands. The reform plan would be financed with a $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes.
“I say to Congress, `Give the people the health care they deserve.’ Is that too much to ask?” asked Cathcart.
Shawn T. Hallisey, a salmon-farm laborer from Machiasport, generated some warm applause for his remarks on campaign-finance reform.
“Couldn’t all the money being spent on campaign signs and media be spent better on people in need?” he asked.
Hallisey proposes eliminating political action committees and limiting spending on congressional campaigns to $150,000 by each candidate.
Hallisey also voiced support for two traditionally Republican ideas, a balanced-budget amendment and a line-item veto for the president. He got no applause for those suggestions.
Jean Hay said she was 100 percent pro-choice and in favor of gay rights. She also said she wasn’t a traditional tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.
“I am dead serious about balancing the federal budget, because the interest payments are lowering our standard of living,” she said, adding that her priorities in balancing the budget would be “people and the planet.”
“I will not vote to spend our hard-earned tax dollars to keep open military bases that the military says it no longer needs for a strong defense,” said Hay. “The military budget is for defense. It is not a jobs program.”
Like the others, Hay said it was important for the party to unite and nominate someone who could appeal to a cross section of voters.
“In the state that gave Ross Perot 30 percent of the vote and Jonathan Carter 9 percent, if we insist on nominating someone who can only appeal to dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, we will lose this race to the Republicans,” she said.
Hay said she mortgaged her farm to provide the bulk of her campaign funds.
Jim Howaniec spoke of his working-class roots in Lewiston and the economic success the city had when he was mayor. He said the city lowered its high school dropout rate from 11.5 percent to 2.5 percent.
“I come from Lewiston, where the requirement is you have to be a Democrat,” he joked. “I come from one of those families where you have a crucifix on one wall and a picture of John Kennedy on the other.”
Howaniec said the biggest problem facing the nation was “the stifling federal debt.”
Janet Mills, the western Maine district attorney, said she would work to protect the jobs of striking mill workers and to protect Social Security benefits.
She said politics doesn’t have to be a dirty word, but can be an honorable activity that helps people who need help.
In Congress, she said, “I will seek what is best, not what is most convenient. I will speak for what is right, not for what is fashionable.”