LEWISTON — Republican U.S. House candidate Kevin Raye unveiled a list of more than 100 veterans backing his bid to unseat the 2nd District Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, during stops in Bangor and Lewiston on Thursday.
Visiting the local Veterans Memorial Park with a group of about 25 supporters, many of them veterans, Raye promised that if he's elected he would never turn his back on them. Others in attendance Thursday included a slate of Republican candidates and incumbents defending their seats in the Maine Legislature.
Standing before several granite stones, etched with the names of many Lewiston-Auburn veterans, Raye was introduced by Maine Attorney General William Schneider, also a veteran, a West Point graduate and former Green Beret.
Schneider, who was injured and disabled during his service in the Army, said he was proud to support Raye. Raye would support a strong military and one that is capable of engaging in two wars at the same time, Schneider said.
"We care about having a strong military and a strong national defense," Schneider said. "We want to make sure the United States is able to protect itself in this very dangerous world in which we live."
Schneider said Democrats in Congress and President Obama have abandoned the "two war strategy that we've had for quite a long time."
He said Democrats were willing to downsize the military to the point the United States would be incapable of fighting two wars at the same time.
"That puts us in a tremendously dangerous position," Schneider said. "I know for an absolute fact that Kevin Raye is a strong proponent for a strong military."
Schneider also said Raye would be a strong advocate for maintaining and improving Veterans Affairs services for those no longer on active duty.
"I want to make sure there is no degradation to our VA system and I know again that Kevin Raye will not allow any degradation of our VA system, he will make sure it continues in the fine form that it is and maybe even gets better," Schneider said.
He went on to tout Raye's service in the Maine Legislature — Raye is the outgoing state Senate president and a long-serving lawmaker from the Washington County town of Perry, including his support for a bill that eliminated the state income tax for Mainers on active duty.
Raye said he was pleased and honored to have the support of so many Maine veterans, including men such as Henry Poisson of Turner.
Poisson, 89, and a World War II veteran and hero of the Battle of the Bulge, stood with Raye on Thursday.
"I think he speaks the truth," Poisson said. "And veterans, we need all the help we can get."
During about a 25-minute speech, Raye said his support for veterans comes from his many personal connections to veterans, including his father and father-in-law, who both served in World War II.
He also spoke about a memorial service when the dog tags of nine Maine veterans were placed on display at the Hall of Flags at the State House.
"Seated before us that day were the wives, the mothers, the children and the fathers of those nine heroes," Raye said. "Their faces etched with pain reminded all of us of the deeply personal nature of war and the terrible human cost of the freedoms we so often take for granted day to day."
Raye called the memorial service "a somber reminder of why we must always honor and never forget the sacrifice of our military members."
Raye had no harsh criticism of his opponent, noting that veterans' issues were often beyond partisanship.
"Frankly, we all support veterans," Raye said. "It's something that unites us, so I certainly wanted to make sure the people of Maine understand these are issues that have been very close to me for a long time and I will continue to be an advocate for veterans."
Michaud has worked on and supported Maine veterans and their related issues for decades, Dan Cashman, a spokesman for Michaud's campaign said Thursday.
"In that time he's amassed a track record supporting veterans that's been unwavering and in a sense unparalleled," Cashman said. "He's made veterans one of his primary focuses during his time in Congress and he has unwavering support for them and they in turn have supported him throughout his campaigns for Congress and we don't see this one being any different."
Cashman said given Michaud's well-known and strong record on veterans, it was interesting Raye's campaign rolled out a veteran theme just five days before the election.
The Raye campaign stop Thursday is one in a series by Raye and Michaud around the region this week and the days ahead, and may well be another indication of the importance both candidates are placing on Lewiston-Auburn area voters.
Both candidates will be in Lewiston again Friday. Raye will be visiting the Walmart distribution center here and Michaud will attend a luncheon at the Franco-American Heritage Center.