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Maine GOP To Elect New Leadership Saturday
07/17/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Maine Republicans are quickly moving forward to reorganize the party after the resignations two weeks ago of the GOP state chair and vice-chair. Elections will be held Saturday in Augusta to select replacements for the two top posts. The winners will take charge of a State party that is still divided in the aftermath of last year's bruising state convention that saw supporters of former presidential candidate Ron Paul seize control.

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It's been a rough 15 months for Maine Republicans. Last May, the party's establishment lost its key positions within the GOP inner circle when supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul seized control of the convention. Then the GOP lost its majorities in the House and Senate during the November elections. Then Charlie Webster resigned as state chairman. Meanwhile, Republican legislative leaders have been at odds with each other over key votes on big bills such as the state budget. Two weeks ago Rich Cebra resigned as GOP state chair and this week, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has been dubbed one of the worst governors in the country by a group of beltway political ethics activists. Now a new election for the party's top two jobs has been set for Saturday.

"It's an opportunity to get a fresh start with the Maine GOP, we've got some really good candidates running," said Eric Brakey.

Eric Brakey heads up the Defense of Liberty PAC and was a former coordinator for the Ron Paul presidential campaign in Maine. He is among the GOP members who will vote on Saturday in a three-way battle that pits longtime Republican lawmaker and party activist Rick Bennett against former Ron Paul supporter Sam Canders and former state legislator Jonathan McKane. Candidates for Vice-Chair are Vic Bernadelli, a former press officer for House Republicans; former state Rep. Sue Morisette and former state Rep. Stavros Mendros. Brakey says that with an open state Senate seat coming up for a special election in Sagadahoc County, the party's next leadership team will have its work cut out for it.

"They're going to have to be able to hit the ground running," Brakey said. "We've got some great people in place already. We've got a really strong executive director of the party right now in Jason Savage who I think has been doing an excellent job and assuming that whoever is elected chooses to keep Jason on, we've got a lot of the infrastructure already in place that we can whoever is elected can kind of hop into it."

The biggest challenge facing the next Republican leadership team will be to unify the party which, despite efforts to reconcile after last year's bitter state convention, still remains factionalized. Paul Madore of Lewiston, who served as Ron Paul's state chairman, recalls the ill feelings when national party leaders decided not to seat Paul delegates from Maine, who he says had been fairly elected.

"It was quite a blow to the rank-and-file Republicans, you know taking over the chairmanship of the convention and moving ahead and literally taking all the delegates save those were for the governor, etc. etc.," Madore said.

Madore says he's supporting former Paul backer Sam Canders for state chair . Madore says Rick Bennett, while a quote "really nice guy", suffers from the image of being part of the old GOP moderate establishment that was dominated for years by such figures as Peter Cianchette, former Gov. John McKernan, and his wife, former Sen. Olympia Snowe. But House Republican Leader Ken Fredette says those who really know Bennett see that he is a conservative who is a political pragmatist at heart. Fredette says he's supporting Bennett, who he describes as uniquely qualified to unite the party.

"I think he is sort of a cross-section candidate for the chairman and I think that he'll have support in all of the various sectors that sort of make up the Republican party and I think that's exactly what we need right now," Fredette said.

Republican sources say Gov. Paul LePage is also backing Bennett while former GOP state chair Charlie Webster is supporting former state Rep. Jonathan McKane of Newcastle.



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