Republicans say time’s right to take over Legislature

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AUGUSTA – The words “We’re not gonna take it any more” boomed through a darkened Augusta Civic Center on Friday afternoon, but it wasn’t a rock band’s performance.

Maine Republicans who gathered for their two-day state convention borrowed Twisted Sister’s lyrics to symbolize their frustration with Democratic dominance in the State House for the last three decades, and their determination take control of the House and Senate in November.

“We’re on the brink of something great,” declared Assistant House GOP leader Josh Tardy of Newport. “People in Maine are sick of the status quo.”

After parading the party’s legislative candidates under spotlights through the civic center, Republican leaders said they sense optimism and hope that in this election cycle they can finally bring to reality majorities they have long sought.

With a few interruptions, Democrats have held control of both chambers for 32 years and currently hold a 19-16 edge over Republicans in the Senate and a razor-thin 74-73 edge in the House, which also has one Green Independent and three unenrolled members.

Outgoing House Republican Leader David Bowles of Sanford told the roughly 1,700 delegates that GOP leaders are optimistic after coming close two years ago to winning a majority. Bowles said his party’s candidates were 250 votes shy of winning five races that would have given the GOP 78 House seats and control of the chamber.

“The Democrats have lost 15 seats in the last four years due to election defeats and defections,” added Bowles.

Tardy acknowledged that the Democrats also bring a strong mix of incumbents to legislative races. But he pointed out that Republicans have more incumbents, who normally have an edge over challengers, running this time than last.

“In our analysis of the races, we feel we’re real strong in 70 or so seats, with 20 swing seats,” Tardy said before addressing the convention. Tardy said the numbers are so close that both national parties are likely to spend a lot of money on Maine legislative contests.

In the Senate, Republicans are feeling upbeat despite losing four incumbents, including GOP leader Paul Davis of Sangerville.

Assistant Senate GOP leader Carol Weston of Montville said Republican Senate candidates had success two years unseating some incumbents and she’s enthusiastic about the list of candidates that bring diverse backgrounds to their races this year.

“Change is in the air,” said Weston. “Can you feel it?”

In their speeches, the GOP leaders reeled off lists of priorities and where they believe the Democrats are weak. They see a vulnerability stemming from the leadership of Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who is seeking re-election. Three Republicans are vying for the party’s nomination to challenge Baldacci.

Bowles said state debt and taxes have become too high and the state has grown hostile to business under the Democrats, which have made Maine “arguably the most extreme social welfare state in the nation.”

GOP victories, he said, would “restore a government dedicated to common sense” and one in which “citizens are self-reliant and don’t look to a bloated government for a solution to every problem.”

While lashing out at Baldacci’s Dirigo universal health access program as an overfunded and failed initiative, GOP leaders listed as a top priority affordable health care, followed by a lower tax burden, controls on spending and education excellence. Republicans want to require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes or increase spending.

Maine Democratic Chairman Ben Dudley dismissed the GOP assertions, saying, “They’re very focused on painting a doom and gloom picture no matter what the facts on the ground are.”

Dudley said the Republicans were distancing themselves from what he called “the best example” of GOP leadership, President Bush.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll suggests that the intensity of opposition to Bush and Congress has risen sharply, along with the percentage of Americans who believe the nation is on the wrong track. The poll of 1,000 adults, including 865 registered voters, also suggests that Democratic voters are far more motivated than Republicans.

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