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Maine party delegates to hear from Sen. Feingold

AUGUSTA, Maine --Energized by the upcoming round of gubernatorial, congressional and legislative races, more than 1,000 Maine Democrats will converge on the Augusta Civic Center this weekend for their party's state convention.

The expected turnout, which includes delegates, alternates and guests, could be a record for a non-presidential election year when political fervor tends to be less intense, Arden Manning, the state party spokesman, said Wednesday as preparations were being made for the two-day gathering.

But party activists are charged up this year by Maine's gubernatorial election, in which Democratic Gov. John Baldacci faces re-election challenges, and the struggle with Republicans for control of the Legislature, in which Democrats now have a tenuous edge.

President Bush's performance, which is seen as a factor in November's midterm elections, is also expected to become a theme as the Democratic delegates gather. One of the president's harshest critics, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, will deliver the convention's keynote speech before Saturday's adjournment.

Feingold, a potential anti-war candidate in the 2008 presidential field, has proposed to censure Bush for authorizing domestic surveillance without warrants as part of the fight against terrorism.

Asked whether the convention will dwell on Bush's leadership, Manning said, "I think it's going to be highlighting our positive Democratic message. That said, there's been a lot of frustration about where George Bush is taking this country."

Party Chairman Ben Dudley offered stronger criticism of Bush in his statement on the convention, saying, "The 2006 election is a choice between the Democratic approach of investment in communities and people or bringing the failed Bush agenda home to Maine."

"Maine people have had enough of the Bush administration's reckless policies and given a choice they are not going to let Bush's Maine allies take Maine in the direction Bush has taken this country," Dudley said.

Formally opening the convention with addresses on Friday will be Baldacci and U.S. Reps. Tom Allen and Mike Michaud, Maine's 1st and 2nd District congressmen who face re-election challenges.

Three Republicans -- state Sens. Peter Mills and Chandler Woodcock and former congressman David Emery -- are seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination. The Blaine House race also features Green Independent Pat LaMarche and state Rep. Barbara Merrill of Appleton, who has qualified for the November ballot as an independent.

On Saturday, delegates will hear from Christopher Miller, who is challenging Baldacci for the Democrats' gubernatorial nomination June 13. The two Democrats seeking the party's U.S. Senate nomination -- civil rights attorney Eric Mehnert and organic farmer and writer Jean Hay Bright -- will also speak Saturday. Mehnert or Hay Bright will face veteran Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe in November.

Adoption of the party platform will also wind up on Saturday. At least two dozen amendments to the draft statement of party principles had been submitted by Wednesday and more could surface during the convention, said Manning.

Among the nearly three dozen planks in the platform is one calling for a comprehensive, national single-payer health insurance system and support for the state's Dirigo universal health program.

The draft calls for freedom "from all forms of discrimination" and supports a woman's right to reproductive choices. It endorses a universal human rights declaration that guarantees that all people have the right to food, shelter, medical care and a good education.

In foreign affairs, the draft platform expresses hope to resolve the war in Iraq by handing control of the country to Iraqi authorities, bringing U.S. troops home, and reconstruction with the United Nations' help.

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On the Net:

Maine Democratic Party: http://www.mainedems.org

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