AUBURN — Standing in the modern Main Street office of the marketing-savvy The Brand Collective, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote pointed to a grim locale on the far side of the globe to explain why he should be the next Blaine House occupant.

Only recently retired from the Maine Army National Guard, the 44-year-old energy entrepreneur talked about his leadership of troops deployed in a combat zone north of Kandahar, Afghanistan.

One unit there had grown “completely toxic,” Cote said, with racism, sexual harassment and fights so severe they made it such “an absolute mess” that its commanders were sent home.

Higher-ups handed the job of fixing it to Cote, who had signed up for the military after graduating from Colby College.

As its new commander, Cote said, he took the dysfunctional unit and melded it into one that could accomplish its mission.

There’s a clear analogy with the way he sees Maine’s state government, which isn’t in quite the sad shape of that flawed company. But with its stagnant, aging population and an economy that isn’t providing a good living for many, Cote said the state isn’t living up to its potential.

Cote said he can help whip the state into shape by providing inspirational leadership to prod Mainers to make the changes necessary for the Pine Tree State to grow strong and tall.

Cote is one of almost a dozen Democrats vying for the chance to represent his party in November’s general election.

First, though, he has to win a June 12 primary that features opponents as varied as Attorney General Janet Mills, former House Speaker Mark Eves and lobbyist Betsy Sweet. Republicans, too, have a tough primary underway to pick their standard bearer in the race to succeed two-term GOP Gov. Paul LePage, who is barred by term limits from running again.

Cote, a lawyer, grew up in Sanford in a big French-American family. His father, Roland Cote, taught history at the high school Cote attended and earned a spot in the New England Basketball Hall of Fame for his success as a player and later as a coach.

Cote said he was “more of a jock” than a scholar in school, but he obviously had plenty of academic skills as well since he gained admission to Colby, where he played football and baseball.

His love of sports remains strong. During a tour of the Auburn Manufacturing Co.’s factory in Mechanic Falls, he spent a long while chatting with an executive whose office paid homage to the New England Patriots.

But Cote also listened carefully as company officials laid out their hope that the next governor will aspire to make Maine better for business and its people.

“We’re ready for a new vision in the state of Maine,” said Kathie Leonard, its owner and chief executive officer.

Cote said that’s exactly what he hopes to provide.

“My leadership’s been tested and proven in some pretty tough areas,” he said, citing his tours of duty in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cote said the next governor needs to create “more of a culture of innovators and entrepreneurs” by bolstering schools, welcoming immigrants and outsiders, pushing green energy, improving workforce training and making broadband widely available.

He said Maine has a great quality of life. The question it faces, he said, is “whether we can create the opportunity” to go along with it.

Cote told employees of the branding firm in Auburn that the issue goes beyond politics.

“It goes a lot further. It goes a lot deeper,” he said, and requires Mainers to put aside their unwillingness to try new things.

He said that LePage deserves some credit for talking about domestic abuse as a serious problem, but also takes some blame for focusing on a narrow agenda of cutting taxes, slicing regulation and casting blame on “some scary immigrant or some single mom in Lewiston.”

Cote said that people need to realize they’re all in it together and unite to embrace a better future.

“We have a really good spot” on the globe, he said, and can turn it into a world leader in green energy and create a vibrant social and business environment that can attract newcomers.

“Young people would love to be here in Maine,” Cote said, if it offered more of a chance for “creating things” along with its beauty and outdoor activities.

Cote said he wants to forge a flourishing Maine for the five children he has with wife Paulina, a Colombia native he met shortly after college and courted in part via letters from Bosnia. He said he wants the next generation, including his children, all between 6- and 13-years-old, to find everything needed to stay here and prosper.

Cote pulled it off, after all. He stayed for college and never left for long, from the time he joined the National Guard in 1997 right on through a successful career in the energy field, where he’s helped develop solar power, written energy laws for Albania and Moldova and made a good living.

In the Guard, which is normally a part-time venture, he enlisted as a private. He became an officer after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack and ultimately retired as a major.

During those years of part-time duty — and three active-duty tours overseas — Cote graduated from the University of Maine Law school. He first jumped into politics in 2008, as one of six Democrats running for an open U.S. House seat in the 1st District. Cote came in second behind Chellie Pingree, who has held the seat since 2009.

This year, he is running hard for the state’s top job, pulling in more funding than any other candidate and, he said, logging more than 400 events around Maine so far to meet potential voters and listen to their concerns. He is determined not to fall short for lack of effort.

After Cote earned his diploma from Colby, with the world wide open to him, he said he thought about his grandfather, who had been among the first wave of troops to land on Iwo Jima during in the last year of World War II. After a nightmarish battle there, Cote’s grandfather was among those who witnessed the Marines atop Mount Suribachi raise the American flag, a scene burned into the national memory even for those who weren’t there.

Cote said that he, too, wanted to serve.

“I always wanted to be a part of something larger than myself,” he said.

That hope hasn’t diminished.

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote during a visit to Auburn’s The Brand Collective. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)

During a tour of a Mechanics Falls factory, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote hears about the production of fire-resistant fabrics from Auburn Manufacturing’s Joe Hummel, production manager. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)