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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Democratic Chairman Lends a Hand in Maine" by Greg Kesich in the Portland Press Herald: October 10, 2006

Staff photo by John Ewing
Portlnd Press Herald staff photo by John Ewing

Gary Akovenko looked surprised to answer his door Monday and find Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, Gov. John Baldacci, a crowd of party activists and a clutch of reporters from newspapers, radio and television waiting to greet him.

"With all of you, I thought I won Publisher's Clearinghouse," Akovenko said.
Instead of a prize, he accepted literature for a handful of Democratic candidates.

The door to Akovenko's hand-picked home on Monument Street was the first to be knocked on by Dean and Baldacci in a joint campaign appearance on a crystal clear October morning, 29 days before the Nov. 7 election.

As part of his "50 state strategy," Dean is taking the Democratic message to parts of the country that have gotten little attention from national leaders in the past because they were considered either too hostile to the party or so friendly that they didn't need the support.

For Maine, Dean's leadership of the national party has meant the addition of three state organizers who are working on behalf of candidates at all levels of government.

It also meant a quick visit from the party's national leader, beginning with a red-meat partisan speech far tougher than what's typically heard in a state where "partisan" can be a dirty word.

Dean focused much of his attack on President Bush, who he said could not be trusted with the economy or the national defense.

He said Bush had sent mixed signals to North Korea instead of trying to delay its nuclear weapons program through negotiation.

"His administration thought that North Korea was going to collapse of its own weight, and the hardliners refused to negotiate," Dean said. "That was a huge mistake."
Ignoring the Green Independent Party and independent challengers to Baldacci, Dean dug into the Republican opponent, Chandler Woodcock, whom Dean compared with Bush.

"If you like what George Bush is doing in Washington, you ought to vote for Chandler Woodcock, because he's a clone of George Bush," Dean said. "He's mouthing the same stuff, although he may be further to the right."

Maine Republican Party Executive Director Julie Ann O'Brien said she was not surprised by Dean's presence in Maine or his hot rhetoric.

"They try to throw things against the wall and see if they will stick. It's just not happening," she said. "People know the difference between what's happening in Maine and what's happening in Washington."

After the speech, the first person who greeted Dean's arrival on Munjoy Hill was Ben Meiklejohn, the Green candidate for the Maine House of Representatives who is running against Democrat Anne Rand and Republican Jeffrey Ferland. A handful of Green activists followed the Democrats, holding up Meiklejohn's campaign signs in the line of television news cameras.

"Nice to have Greens at Democratic events," state Democratic Party Chairman Ben Dudley said to Meiklejohn. "It's nice that you know who's actually getting stuff done."
Meiklejohn sniped back: "It's great to see you guys doing the doors, finally."

Meiklejohn said he has spent the last four months meeting voters in the district that includes Munjoy Hill.

He said there has been significant turnover in the district, giving him a chance to beat Rand, a popular Democrat who has been elected eight times to represent Portland in the House and Senate.

Rand agreed that the neighborhood in which she grew up has changed, but said she does not change her message because she is running against a challenger from the left instead of the right.

"Wherever I go, I come to the door and tell the people what I stand for," she said. "If they don't like it they can vote for someone else."

At Baldacci's and Dean's first stop, Akovenko said he had been called by party advance people Sunday and expected a visit from canvassers.
He asked Dean and Baldacci about the Democratic position on the war in Iraq.

"We don't like it," Dean answered. "We don't think we should be there and they think that we should."

Akovenko asked him to be more specific, and Baldacci responded that the country's position on Iraq should be part of a comprehensive Middle East strategy.
Akovenko said he was satisfied with the answers and said that he does not consider the Greens a realistic alternative when the issue is the war.

"That's really what's on people's minds," he said.
Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at:

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