AUGUSTA (AP) – While attending a Blaine House reception for Maine’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention, it became clear to Sam Shapiro that he was among the few seasoned convention veterans headed to Boston.

“There was only one other person with gray hair,” quipped Shapiro, 76, a former state treasurer who has attended at least a half-dozen national conventions over the years.

Shapiro’s observation underscores what party leaders describe as a light representation of familiar pols and the appearance of new faces among those headed to the July 26-29 gathering.

The infusion of new blood is due in large part to the active campaigns for Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich early in the presidential race, party leaders say. It also stems from a strong anti-war feeling and strong disapproval of President Bush’s leadership, they say.

“A lot of these people have never been to a national convention – a lot have never been involved in politics,” said Dorothy Melanson, chairwoman of the Maine Democratic Party and one of Maine’s 35 delegates among more than 4,300 attending.

Maine’s delegation chairman, Gov. John Baldacci, who hosted the Blaine House gathering earlier this month and is attending his third national convention, said many of the new delegates were drawn into politics during the February caucuses. He finds the new activism encouraging.

“You want to be a party that continually grows, expands its base,” said the governor, who like Melanson is chosen on the basis of his high government or party position.

Roughly 20 of Maine’s delegates will be attending their first national convention. Some had never even attended a state convention before this spring, further reflecting their newness to politics, leaders say.

“It just got to the point where I said I’ve had it and I’m getting involved,” said first-time delegate Carla Bryson of Portland, who had not been politically active before she attended a party caucus last winter.

Another new delegate, Melanie Dees of Portland, was elected on the basis of her work early on for the Dean campaign, which lined up votes on her behalf at the state convention in May.

“I never would have been” a delegate on her own, said Dees, who is now working on U.S. Rep. Tom Allen’s re-election campaign. “They said I would and took care of everything. I was incredibly flattered.”

The roster of delegates includes 11 pledged to Sen. John Kerry, seven for Dean and six for Kucinich. The “superdelegates” being sent on the basis of their government or party posts go to Boston unpledged, but there’s little doubt they will line up behind presumptive presidential nominee Kerry.

Still, Melanson finds herself somewhat troubled by the uncertainty of what will happen when it’s time for the Dean and Kucinich backers to turn their votes over to Kerry. It’s not the numbers that bother Melanson, because Kerry has well over what he needs to clinch the nomination.

“I’m worried about the message” if non-Kerry delegates hedge, said Melanson. “I’m worried about the Kucinich people coming back and not supporting Kerry.”

Shapiro said he’s confident that the delegates will be united after all is said and done.

“I think there’s going to be some hand-holding, where the Kerry people will allow the Dean and Kucinich people to express themselves and be part of the process,” said Shapiro.

“It’s good for the party that we have dozens of new people that are active and participating,” added Shapiro.

How much delegates’ inexperience influences the political views they bring to the convention is unclear. On the issue of whether they support gay marriage, 17 of 27 delegates interviewed said they favor it, three oppose it, and seven others are undecided.

Of the three opponents, two are first-time delegates, while one is a veteran delegate. Only one of those interviewed opposed abortion rights, and she is a first-time delegate.

Among all of the delegates interviewed, economy and jobs, health care and the situation in Iraq were most frequently cited issues of concern.

In addition to going through the formality of nominating Kerry and Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, the delegates will attend meetings addressing issues of interest to women, labor, gays and other subgroups within the party.

On the social side, arrangements were being made for the Maine delegation – led by Baldacci, the only Democratic governor in New England – to attend a reception at Fenway Park, said Shapiro.

The Maine delegation will also play host to political commentator Al Franken, the brother-in-law of Bryson.

Franken, author of such books as “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” and “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations,” will stay with the Maine delegation and speak at a breakfast for the delegates, said Bryson.

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AP-ES-07-18-04 1303EDT

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