The Waldo County Republican biennial caucus drew an array of candidates and 68 voters from various municipalities to Belfast Area High School March 3.

According to State Committeewoman Patty Keyes of Swanville, who managed procedural issues for the caucus, participation this year was "maybe a few above average" for a non-presidential year; in presidential years, usually 150 to 200 people attend, she said. In 2016, however — the year Donald Trump was nominated — 750 showed up. "Talk about being unprepared!" Keyes said.

Seven towns were not represented at the caucus Saturday. Republicans in the no-shows (Freedom, Frankfort, Islesboro, Jackson, Prospect, Stockton Springs and Unity) have until March 20 to convene a municipal caucus and set up town committees. Waldo GOP Chairman Michael Cunningham said Tuesday he will be "trying to convene those caucuses really soon"; town committees then must choose their delegates to the GOP State Convention (May 4-5) by April 4.

Among the candidates who addressed the gathering were state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, who is challenging incumbent Independent Angus King for the U.S. Senate; Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, seeking the Republican nomination for governor; and District Attorney Jon Liberman of West Bath, running to retain the post to which he was appointed a year ago by Gov. Paul LePage.

Also, District 99 Rep. MaryAnne Kinney of Knox, running for her third term in the state Legislature, speaking for herself, gubernatorial candidate Garrett Mason, and former Rep. Jayne Crosby Giles, running for Thibodeau's seat in the state Senate; and Brian Kresge of Winterport, who hopes to succeed termed-out Rep. James Gillway in District 98.

Also, Selectman Robert Michael Currier of Belmont, who has set his sights on the District 96 seat held by incumbent Democratic Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler; Peter Sheff of Morrill, running to succeed retiring David Parkman, longtime county treasurer; and Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton, looking for his second term.

Chris Moody, wife of Shawn Moody of Gorham, spoke of her husband's background and qualifications for the gubernatorial nomination, while J. C. Miller of Morrill told why former Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Mayhew of China should capture the primary vote, and Shayn Archambault spoke on behalf of House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport, who was away on National Guard weekend duty.

Cunningham announced that Bevelyn Beatty of Belfast, currently "ministering to people who don't want to hear her message" on the streets of Los Angeles, will seek the House District 97 seat being vacated by termed-out Democratic Rep. Erin Herbig. "She's a conservative," he said, "and will be able to connect with people who are not interested in connecting."

About 11:10 a.m. Keyes provided instructions for selecting town committee members, County Committee representatives and delegates to the State GOP Convention coming up May 4-5 in Augusta. The work session was interrupted briefly when Brakey arrived from the Androscoggin GOP caucus to introduce himself and his candidacy in opposition to "King Angus."

Describing himself as a constitutional conservative, the candidate spoke of his first race for the Maine Senate, in which he defeated an incumbent, 36-year career politician — a "little guy" versus a "big guy" — and won in a 20-point landslide. In his next election, Brakey won by an even larger margin.

Recalling how David saw Goliath as a target "so big I cannot miss," Brakey said he would take aim at King for voting to spend "billions in corporate welfare and rack up trillions in debt," voting against "tax cuts for Maine people and Maine businesses," voting "to undermine and restrict our 2nd Amendment rights," and voting "to send weapons to forces allied with ISIS in Syria, which are used against our own soldiers on other battlefields."

Common themes running through earlier candidate speeches had to do with sustaining economic progress made over the last eight years and retaining young people in the state with legislation that fosters business and job growth, and expanded educational opportunities, particularly in the trades.

Leading off, Thibodeau acknowledged a standing ovation, saying, "It's been a terrific honor" to represent Waldo County in the state Senate, where he is the longest-serving Senate president.

Turning immediately to economic progress, he said "Maine now enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in New England" and added that as a result of growing employment opportunities here, he's getting to see his grandson "grow up in Topsham, and not in Groton, Connecticut."

Chris Moody told how, at 17, Shawn bought a lot, built a three-bay garage on it, and "was a business owner, landowner and mortgagor before he could vote." Advocating for greater efforts to train young people to go into the trades, she said more needs to be done to connect students with businesses.

Miller said Mary Mayhew, who hired him into DHHS, believes "Things do not move unless they are pushed." Citing her "tremendous results … moving people from welfare to good-paying jobs," he said Mayhew wants to create an environment "where government is not in the way … and business will thrive."

Archambault reviewed Lt. Col. Fredette's credentials and legislative record of voting to reduce taxes, then noted, "We've got five great candidates (running for the gubernatorial nomination); the Democrats can't even find one."

Liberman, then a deputy district attorney, was named to succeed Geoffrey Rushlau upon his appointment to a judgeship a year ago. Liberman emphasized that he is an experienced criminal trial prosecutor — which, he said, is vital to the department's ability  to win convictions. He cited the case of a Tennessee long-haul truck driver found guilty Jan. 29 on all 15 charges stemming from a crash in Washington that killed two and injured others. Defense attorneys, he said, had fought hard to keep convincing evidence (alcohol, drugs and speed) from the jury.

"If you don't have experienced trial lawyers in this position," he said, "you will not be able to take the bad guys off the street."

Kinney called gubernatorial candidate Mason "a committed conservative" who worked to reform the tax code and, in education, wants to improve vocational instruction to help bring jobs back. He also wants to reform the citizen initiative process which has "become a joke," she said, "stolen by the left and out-of-state interests."

Kinney also read a letter from Giles, who had another event planned for Saturday. Speaking for herself, Kinney said she has been working for tax, welfare and referendum process reform on behalf of residents in the nine Waldo County towns she represents.

Sheff said his tax accountant told him, "You have a problem here. I don't think the IRS is going to believe you pay as much taxes in Morrill, Maine, as you say." The candidate for county treasurer's remarks drew widespread applause.

Kresge, a former Democrat, withdrew as a Libertarian gubernatorial candidate to join the Republican Party and run to represent House District 98 (Winterport, Searsport, Frankfort and Swanville). He said he is often inspired by the wisdom of rabbis and quoted one: "Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement."

"That's not happening with the Democrats," he said, adding, "I'm running to change that."

Currier, a life-long resident of Belmont and currently its second selectman, said he is running "to preserve and grow our state," especially with his 6-month-old daughter in mind. He wants to do more to encourage businesses to come to Maine and "help get our young workforce back in Maine."

Sheriff Trafton acknowledged the "really tragic week in Waldo County," with the death of an abused 10-year-old girl in Stockton Springs. "School security is on the minds of every parent, every person," he said. He was with Maine State Police in the 1990s when they placed a school resource officer at Mount View, he said, adding that he has spoken with Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden "and a new resource officer will be in the high school soon."

The caucus adjourned shortly after noon.