Patten: Maine GOP Needs New Leadership After Rout

In the wipeout we experienced last night, the absence of a strong party support structure was glaringly obvious.

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Chances are you learn more from defeat than victory. Success, the old saying goes, has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan. Out of graciousness, one tends not to argue about why someone won and allow various people to take credit. Defeat is less forgiving, less fuzzy. It forces you to really think.

As long as I’ve been involved in politics, Maine has had a weak state GOP. Statewide office-holders like Bill Cohen, Jock McKernan, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Paul LePage all had to compensate for this by building their own teams – which often rivaled one another. More generally, it’s a cultural difference between Democrats, who at least play big team kumbaya, and Republicans, who tend to look at campaigns as knife fights.

In the wipeout we experienced last night, the absence of a strong party support structure was glaringly obvious.

Many legislative candidates hitched their campaign bandwagons to that of former Gov. Paul LePage who, understanding the importance of a united front, campaigned with local candidates throughout Maine. Were he polling 10-15 points higher, that strategy of a rising tide lifting all ships might have worked.

But of course it he wasn’t, and it didn’t. Voters in Maine needed to see more of the Republican Party than just LePage – especially in a year when abortion was on the ballot. Hybrid executive/legislative campaigns need to send a message about what the team will look like, and how a different administration might govern. Janet Mills’ attacks on the “chaos” of past LePage administrations seemed to stick.

What the hybrid strategy did instead was to overshadow new faces. Republicans had some really good candidates down ballot, but they never got much bandwidth. The ones that got more, like Aroostook’s Sue Bernard, probably didn’t get enough.

One example of institutional weakness I saw on the state senate campaign committee is that despite repeated requests (as a rare, friendly journalist), I couldn’t get a list from the Maine Senate Republicans of the top five biggest fails of the Senate Democrats. In an ordinary world, such a basic document would have existed on day one, but evidently they were busy with something else.

We desperately need our own polling. Any polling we do see tends to be done by Democrats, which allows them wide latitude in setting the benchmarks.

Perhaps with useful intelligence, we might have known not to waste as much oxygen on cultural issues, like litter-boxes in classrooms or gender-bending books in school libraries, and focused more sharply on economic pain. After all, Mills sent us checks while Republicans failed to offer an anti-crisis plan (other than ‘elect us’).

Maine Democrats can count on the support of a wide array of non-profits and issue advocacy groups. As Republicans, we seem to have fewer. That is something to think about, especially given the role such groups play in turning voters out either before or on the Election Day.

Finally, media bandwidth is a third and vital shortcoming conservatives need to think seriously about going forward. Other than this outlet, which was kind enough to pick my column up after I got cancelled by several ‘mainstream’ papers for being too partisan, there is almost no written media outlet in Maine where you can read a right of center view. There are a few conservative radio stations, and WMTW-8 tries to be fairer than the others, but the bottom line is when it comes to media, we are badly outgunned.

It is unlikely Republicans in Maine will build a machine that matches the one Democrats have before the next election. But there is no harm in working to build better capacity. As of today, LePage is no longer the Maine GOP’s de facto leader. In choosing his replacement, it would be wise to look for one who is seriously committed to drafting a realistic blueprint for regaining power.

That effort begins today by gearing up for future elections

1 COMMENT

  1. There was electoral fraud here and everywhere where Republicans underperformed their poll numbers and Democrats overperformed. Same in New Hampshire where Hassan won by 8 points? She was even or down in the polls. The polls were correct. The vote was incorrect. Republicans were weak but the Deep State criminals made sure of the outcome.

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