BANGOR, Maine — Sen. Susan Collins kicked off a statewide bus tour Monday, leaving her Main Street campaign office in the morning to travel north to Houlton.

Kevin Kelley, spokesman for Collins’ campaign, said that after getting a sendoff from supporters, Collins traveled to Old Town to make stops at two businesses that helped make the bus tour possible. White Sign, owned by Ralph Leonard, painted the graphics on the bus, while Cyr Bus Lines, owned by Joseph Cyr and his family, provided the bus Collins will use for the tour, Kelley said. Collins will use the bus for the remainder of the campaign, he said.

“She will be touring from now until Election Day in this bus,” Kelley said.

From Old Town, the bus headed north toward Aroostook County, where Collins grew up. The tour’s first stop in The County was Smyrna Mills, where Collins and her campaign staffers had lunch at Brookside Inn, according to Kelley. The tour then took Collins to the Smith & Wesson plant in Houlton, where employees have benefited from the senator’s efforts to broaden the type of contracts American firearms manufacturers can bid on, he said.

According to Kelley, Collins secured a provision in the 2008 federal defense authorization bill that allowed American firms to bid on contracts to supply small arms to police, security and military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Previously, some contracts of this type that were administered by the Department of Defense have been limited to foreign companies, he said. Collins’ efforts helped enable Smith & Wesson to increase the number of its employees in Houlton from 80 in 2006 to 140 today, he said.

Collins met with company president Michael Golden, who traveled north from Smith & Wesson’s headquarters in Springfield, Mass., and about 100 of the company’s local employees, according to Kelley.

The bus tour began as Collins’ general election opponent, 1st District U.S. Rep Tom Allen, attended events at the four-day Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The tour is expected to keep Collins in Aroostook County for a few days, Kelley said, and then take the senator to Gardiner on Thursday and then to the Blue Hill Fair on Friday. Along the way, Collins will be writing blogs that will appear on her campaign Web site.

The purpose of the bus tour, according to Kelley, is to provide Mainers with direct access to Collins and to enable her to get out her message directly to voters.

“It’s generating a lot of excitement,” he said.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....