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Castleberry Fairs

Top political operative got his start in Berlin


January 04, 2012
CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine – Many of the nation's top political operatives began their careers working in grassroots presidential campaigns in New Hampshire. Forty-years ago, this month a 23-year-old Larry Benoit, a native of Cape Elizabeth, Maine was featured in this paper as an unnamed reporter wrote about the three Democratic candidates' Berlin offices. He was working for Maine U.S. Senator Ed Muskie, who won the North Country and the state, but lost the nomination to U.S. Sen. George McGovern.

This experience set Benoit on a career path that includes four decades of service including --- being the Sergeant of Arms of the U.S. Senate, campaign manager and top staffer for Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Senator Ed Muskie and Congressman and Governor John Baldacci.

Benoit, who now works at a Maine-based government affairs consulting firm that includes former Governor Angus King, fondly remembers his several months in Berlin.

"I enjoyed it," he said during an interview last Wednesday, "the people were great."

In 1971, after a short stint with the Maine Democratic Party encouraging 18 year-olds to register to vote (prior that election the voting age was 21), he went to work for Muskie in Manchester, where he briefly worked for Tony Podesta, today one of Washington's top lobbyists and brother to John Podesta, former President Clinton's last chief of staff. Benoit said, he "happily accepted" his assignment to go to Berlin. He ticks off local names and places with ease, including staying at the Costello Motor Inn and remembers working with long-time Berlin politico Dennis Kilbride and former Governor and Littleton resident Hugh Gallen, both of whom helped Muskie in Berlin.

In those days, Berlin and Gorham had a lot of clout in a Democratic primary. In 1972, the top three contenders -- Muskie, McGovern and Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty had offices on the city's Main Street. Their work was primarily contacting voters by telephone and door-to-door and trying to convince them to support their candidate, once identified as a supporter, they were enlisted to have a sign on their lawn and certainly reminded to vote on Election Day. Muskie won Berlin by a large margin Benoit said, the Maine Senator benefited from strong connections between Franco-American families of central and western Maine with northern New Hampshire.

Despite being involved in high level politics, Benoit's heart remains committed to the ideal of grassroots political engagement. Despite the changes that made politics less person-to-person focused, he said, grassroots politics "is still the business of the New Hampshire primary."

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