BANGOR — At first blush, the Lions Club seemed like the lion’s den for John Baldacci.
Baldacci, the Democrat running for the 2nd District congressional seat, had just spent the better part of two days in mostly conservative Aroostook County and was looking forward to coming home to Bangor.
But when he strolled into the banquet room of Geaghan’s Roundhouse Restaurant at lunchtime Wednesday, Baldacci found himself facing a roomful of Lions sporting “Bennett for Congress” stickers on their lapels.
Lucky for his ego, Baldacci knew this crowd and predicted the ploy, which is sort of a tradition for the club: Whenever a candidate comes over for a speech, a generous supply of the opposition’s stickers is passed around.
“They should all have Bennett stickers on,” Baldacci said as he walked toward the building. Later, as the Lions thrust their lapels in his face, he laughed, “You guys wouldn’t be you guys if you didn’t do it.”
After months of meeting with often unfamiliar groups in sometimes stiff debates or forums, Baldacci offered a more relaxed version of his stump speech, which included vignettes of growing up in the Queen City.
Although there were some decidedly Republican faces in the crowd, it was a mostly warm reception for Baldacci, Bangor’s state senator.
“Oh, boy, what a day,” Baldacci said to the group, just hours after a couple of quick stops in Fort Kent. “I didn’t think I’d have to be in front of you guys again. God help us.”
Being in the County helped highlight the reasons he’s running for Congress, he said, echoing his standard speech lines about the young people who leave Aroostook because of the weak job market there despite the strong work ethic that binds generations.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s really an enormous undertaking and a huge responsibility.”
Baldacci said he decided to jump into the race, which opened up after U.S. Rep. Olympia Snowe decided to run for retiring Sen. George Mitchell’s seat, because of the high unemployment rate that lingers in seven of the 2nd District’s 10 counties.
“It was up to me to get involved — roll up my sleeves and try to get things done,” said Baldacci, whose sleeves indeed were rolled up his forearms.
Looking around the room, Baldacci acknowledged old friends, many of whom knew his late father, Robert, who introduced the family to politics while working at Momma Baldacci’s Restaurant.
“I used to come in the back door from Augusta, Dad would be washing the dishes and he’d say, `what did you do for the public today?”‘
During the question-and-answer period, Baldacci faced some of the queries that greet him on the daily campaign trail.
What’s the most important concern in northern Maine, one asked.
Jobs, he said.
And what about small businesses, another Lion chimed in — mom-and-pop industries are being run over by the larger chains that have been appearing more and more in Maine.