Maine Republicans wrap up the state convention.

AUGUSTA – As they walked into a sweltering spring afternoon at the close of their state convention this weekend, Maine Republicans set their sights on the political grass roots to build support for their candidates in the months ahead.

“People walked out with the common goal of the basics of politics: to elect our candidates,” Dwayne Bickford, state GOP executive director, said Sunday, the day after the convention’s close.

The theme that emerged through speeches by elected GOP leaders and candidates during the two-day convention was, “Get back to grass roots politics and engage the voters one-by-one,” said Bickford.

While formally putting their party back in business for another two years, GOP delegates amended and adopted a party platform, elected delegates to the national nominating convention to be held in New York this summer, named presidential electors and elected a new state committee.

The gathering at the Augusta Civic Center provided something of a contrast to what Republicans witnessed two years ago at the same place.

The 2002 convention was energized by a GOP gubernatorial primary race between former state legislator Jim Libby and Peter Cianchette, who went on to win the nomination but lost in the general election to Democrat John Baldacci.

The last convention also showcased U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who withstood a re-election challenge later that year. Also in 2002, four GOP contestants for the GOP nomination in the 2nd Congressional District were paraded before the delegates.

This year’s 2nd District candidate, Brian Hamel, has no challenger. First District candidate Charles Summers is also unopposed in this year’s primary.

Almost any mention of Bush drew cheers and applause in 2002, while such expressions of support were more muted, if equally steely and unwavering, this year.

Maine’s senior elected Republican, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, set the tone for the election season ahead as she called for an all-out effort to re-elect President Bush and other Republicans on the ballot.

Summers illustrated the GOP’s resolve to knock on doors and talk to friends and neighbors as he asked delegates to host “Chowder With Charlie” get-togethers to bolster his campaign against U.S. Rep. Tom Allen.

Karen Raye of Perry, the newly elected GOP national committeewoman, got more to the point, saying, “We need to do a better job than the Democrats in getting out the vote.”

At the legislative level, House and Senate GOP leaders proudly showcased the first full slate of 186 GOP contestants in 56 years. House Minority Leader Joe Bruno boldly predicted a Republican House majority – a rarity for decades – will be elected in 2004.

Senate Minority Leader Paul Davis of Sangerville also expressed determination to stage a GOP State House takeover.

“We want to win and we want to change things. We’re going to win,” said Davis. “Thirty years of left-wing Democratic rule has left our state in a sorry state indeed.”

Avoiding debate among themselves, the delegates summarily adopted three additions to their statement of party ideals.

One platform amendment urges Republican candidates to sign a pledge to oppose any tax increases, another opposes a Maine Woods National Park encompassing much of the northern and eastern areas of the state, and the third supports a Maine Week of Heroes to honor those serving in the military.

The statement of party principles begins with a statement calling for support for Bush in the war on terror. The platform also calls for state spending controls, reduced taxes, affordable health care through free-market reforms, an affirmation of “the sanctity of life and the right of parents to be involved in the reproductive decisions of their minor children.”

The focus shifts now to Maine’s Democrats, who open their three-day convention Friday in Portland.

AP-ES-05-16-04 1456EDT

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