AUGUSTA (AP) — Maine Democrats are busy preparing for their convention, where they hope to show off their candidates and send a message that the state needs a new direction after 3½ years of Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Party leaders say the convention, which kicks off Friday at Bangor’s Cross Center, won’t focus on what they view as LePage’s faults but instead on what voters can expect if they put a Democrat in power this November.

“We really think that, as Democrats, our values are Maine values; our program offers Maine people the best chance to succeed,” said party Chairman Ben Grant. “We really want to project a positive vision for the future.”

Party activists will hear from Shenna Bellows, who’s aiming to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, as well as 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree and the Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for the open 2nd District seat.

On Saturday night, LePage challenger Rep. Mike Michaud will discuss how Maine can rise above the partisanship and divisiveness that he believes has marked the Republican governor’s administration, a spokeswoman for his campaign said.

“To me, convention is more than just energizing our party,” Michaud said in a statement. “It’s an opportunity to talk to all of Maine about how we can bring people together — Democrats, Republicans and independents — to move Maine forward.”

Michaud’s remarks will be followed by R.T. Rybak, the former mayor of Minneapolis and a Democratic National Committee vice chairman.

The gathering will also provide a chance for Emily Cain and Troy Jackson, the two Democrats squaring off in the 2nd District, to gauge party support ahead of the June 10 primary.

Cain and Jackson, who served alongside each other in the state Senate, are vying for a chance to compete against former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin or former Senate President Kevin Raye for the seat that’s being left open by Michaud’s decision to run for governor.

Democrats will debate a proposed party platform that supports a “fair, progressive tax system,” the adoption of a universal, single-payer health care system and opposes “right-to-work” laws.

That vision differs dramatically from the one outlined by the GOP when they met at the same location last month. Their platform called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman and emphasized the need for fiscal restraint in government.

After back-to-back divisive conventions, the GOP heralded the unity on display this year as evidence of their ability to re-elect LePage and regain majorities in both legislative chambers.

The state Senate, in particular — with 19 Democrats, 15 Republicans and 1 independent — is being closely watched. All the seats are up for election.

Democrats say having LePage on the ballot will pose a problem for GOP lawmakers because voters want change, from the top to bottom. But even so, they acknowledge there’s much at stake in ensuring they maintain power in the House and Senate.

“There’s so much invested in defeating Paul LePage, we don’t want that opportunity to be wasted if we lost one of the houses,” Grant said.

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