Republicans in Maine may be getting a reprieve from the internecine miasma that’s been keeping the party from asserting itself as a permanent majority. Democrats revel in hurling fruitless attacks at the party principals, but a behind-the-scenes effort has moved the party toward the united front that GOP faithful have been waiting for years to see.
While the majority of a political party’s efforts go unseen by voters, a lack of visible leadership can lead to a terrible morale problem with the faithful masses. Republicans in Maine, despite recent electoral success, have witnessed bickering and infighting filling the vacuum left by the absence of strong forward momentum. The coming GOP senate primary is offering an opportunity to end this infighting, and the party has taken steps that indicate a more proactive role in the public arena.
The state party has decided to take control of the public face of the primary through a series of candidate forums. Located across the state, the nine public forums will give candidates an opportunity to play on an equal footing in front of a more concentrated group of primary voters than they would likely be able to garner on their own. (The first forum is this Thursday night in Presque Isle, more details about the forums can be found at www.GOPforME.com)
No candidate likes having to spend time preparing for debates, but the party’s move ensures that the candidate who emerges from this primary process is ready to face the national attention and scrutiny of a United States Senate race. A rigorous public appearance schedule is not only good for candidate exposure, but it will ensure the state GOP doesn’t offer up the next Christine O’Donnell—the ill-fated GOP senate candidate from Delaware who melted away once the white-hot light of national politics shined on her in 2010.
Maine has slipped under the radar screen of hardcore politics for a long time, but this year’s campaign will likely see some of the worst of American political hardball. Candidates need to be able to face biased reporters creating gotcha moments. They need to be able handle enemy trackers cornering them at events with video cameras in their faces.
And they need to be ready for the chance that they’ll be grilled by national reporters on “Meet the Press” or similar venues if their race ends up competitive. That’s why the state GOP’s public forum boot camp, while no doubt a challenge for the fledgling campaigns, is a smart move.
The other clearly positive aspect is that these forums will end the Angus King one-man-media show that has so far dominated the public discussion of this senate race. Maine Democrats appear to have thrown the towel in on this race, so the GOP debates will likely be the most interesting thing that happens from now until the June primary.
Rather than allowing the press to concoct their own narratives about the race, these open forums will give the public the chance to take a measure of the candidates and see them perform in a real campaign setting.
The Republican Party still needs to find its voice if its going to hold on to the legislative majorities of 2010. It needs a positive message that can counter the “Rob the Rich” class-envy message of Maine Democrats if they are going to see success this fall. But a grown-up approach to the senate primary is a strong indication that the party is thinking beyond the old patterns, and this is a good sign for the GOP.