Obama’s Maine rally draws health overhaul critics

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Demonstrators outside the Portland Expo expressed their opposition to what some called a “government takeover” of health care. Others said the Obama administration is whittling away at personal freedoms while driving up the government deficit. A small number called out for immigration reform.

“Somebody’s got to speak for the silent majority,” said Dave Call of Standish, wearing an “American Patriot” hat and holding a sign that read “Leave my health care alone.”

Across the street inside the Portland Expo, Obama gave an enthusiastic speech to supporters touting his health plan’s benefits for families and small businesses. Obama decried “fear-mongering” and “overheated rhetoric” and told his critics that they needed to give the plan time to work.

As Obama supporters entered the building to hear the president, more than 300 protesters waved signs and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags while ringing bells. Smaller numbers of people held signs in support of Obama.

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The demonstrators ranged from college students to retirees and included business owners and people who were jobless.

Mark Fortier, a real estate agent from South Portland, said health care reform should have come through increasing competition in the private sector — not increasing government involvement. He said he doesn’t even want to think about the cost.

“The White House is no different than my house; you borrow too much and you can lose your home,” he said. “We could lose our country.”

Kathleen McKenna, a retired middle school counselor from Damariscotta who listened to Obama, praised the president for keeping his campaign promise to find a way to enact health care reform. She said the people demonstrating outside the Portland Expo against Obama’s health care plan were swayed by “misinformation.”

“He accomplished what many before him have been unable to accomplish,” she said. “This is a beginning. It’s not a finished product, but it’s a beginning.”

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Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this story.

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