As the state committee of the Maine Republican Party prepares to elect a chairperson at the end of this month, the Cumberland County Republican Committee, led by former district attorney Stephanie Anderson, is hosting a candidates’ forum on Wednesday evening. What questions should she and others be asking the four candidates?
Never in my lifetime, which is a scant 51 years, has the Maine Republican Party been a real powerhouse the way state parties elsewhere can be with the right constellations of talent, opportunity and purpose. Most Republicans who have been elected statewide here have had very limited expectations for it – namely not creating problems or, more recently, serving as a pass-thru for national money. So the bar is low. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
From the time I left Susan Collins’ employ in 2001 to my return home to Maine two years ago, I’ve spent a substantial amount of time working with and training political parties in other countries. This has given me some insight into what useful parties can do. Here are some examples:
- At the bare minimum, the party should maintain an updated voter file and make that available in usable formats to all of its candidates up and down the ballot. Based on my conversations with a dozen or so candidates from the last cycle, that has not really been happening. Our demography is changing every day, and the state party should be a better job staying on top of that.
- Election rules also change. Republicans did not applaud the arrival of Ranked Choice Voting, yet that’s the system we now have in Maine. So rather than whining about it, why aren’t we adapting our strategies to it? One congressional candidate told me the state party couldn’t even offer instructions on how to comply with it. The same goes for mail-in voting. Former President Trump trafficked plenty of anxiety about it, but no grown-ups stood up and said ‘maybe we should wrap our arms around this’? Not doing so is idiocy.
- We have an uneven media environment in Maine. If you’re reading this piece, it’s because you see benefit in the only conservative digital source in the state. I got cancelled from three weekly papers in the Midcoast last October for being “too partisan” – according to a hyper-partisan Democrat state representative from Rockland who complained about me. How do we get or message out in such conditions? By being smarter and more attractive than our opponents. If the state party is actually training candidates how to do this, I missed that memo.
- More broadly, the state party should be running a regular campaign school for candidates. Some outside groups like the Leadership Institute, Young Americans for Liberty and others have tried to help fill that void, but it’s really ad hoc when we need to have our own knowledge base that is adapted to our specifics here in Maine.
- Lastly, we need to be appealing to independents, not repelling them. Maine has had two independent governors because we are, with good reason, more skeptical of party labels than the average Joe. So how do we attract fresh blood to our ranks? The way to begin answering this difficult question is with research – regular polls and focus groups as well as an in-house capacity for analyzing data. The Democrats have monopolized in-state research capacity, changing that is a no-brainer.
These are just a handful of core functionalities of a competent party. The next chair must have a cogent and realistic plan for doing at least these five things. Hats off to all who have recognized the need for a change. Getting from this threshold position to one that might start delivering requires asking the right questions. That is if we really see a future for ourselves. As Maine goes…