Despite their success in Augusta, Republicans will face a much different electorate in 2012 than the one that swept them to power two years ago.
With President Obama at the top of the ticket, a freedom-to-marry referendum question on the ballot and two years of Republican control, left-leaning groups will pull out all the stops to get their voters engaged. Turnout will be much higher because of the presidential election and there will be a tremendous amount of progressive energy in the electorate.
When it comes to Gov. LePage, his adversaries have it easier than his allies.
As we have seen in the special legislative elections that have occurred over the last two years, the governor is a big and easy political target for those who oppose his agenda and approach. But he also can have a huge impact in ensuring that Republicans have the resources and energy needed to defend their majorities in November.
May’s Republican State Convention, which drew attention for its fights and dysfunction, provides a glimpse into the governor’s ability to unify.
In an epic example of energy and grassroots organization, the Ron Paul presidential campaign turned supporters into convention delegates and seized control of the weekend. Many of the Paul delegates are newcomers to the process but now hold leadership positions within the party at the state and local level.
The one moment of Republican unity at the convention was the governor’s speech. In rapt attention and with enthusiastic applause, Republicans from across the political spectrum listened and responded to LePage’s address. If Gov. LePage can convince Ron Paul Republicans to work for the benefit of all, it can be a tremendous opportunity for the party and its candidates.
Eric Brakey is a Ron Paul supporter and a liberty Republican. He is new to Maine, worked on the Paul campaign and was elected to the Republican State Committee at the convention. He also has a new job directing Maine’s Defense of Liberty PAC.
According to its Facebook page, the Defense of Liberty PAC is committed to electing principled liberty candidates to the Maine Legislature. While the PAC’s resources will be targeted, Brakey says the broader goal is maintaining majorities in the Legislature that will support Gov. LePage’s limited government agenda.
And that is a goal shared by Kim Pettengill, a 40-year veteran of helping elect Republicans in Maine. She has chaired the Kennebec County Committee, served on the State Committee, become an expert on election rules and recounts, and organizes parades, fair booths and pretty much any other GOP-campaign activity.
At the Republican State Convention, Pettengill lost her seat on the State Committee to a relative newcomer backed by a block of Ron Paul delegates. But she is not to be deterred. She continues to contribute because the future of Maine is at stake. Her commitment, talent and will are impressive. And she is not alone.
While the primary and convention have left many long-serving Republican activists feeling rejected, the governor has the ability to mend political fences. He can also raise money and encourage his supporters to work for promising candidates.
At their best, legislative races are about the qualifications of the candidates, local issues and the political leanings of the district. Honest stands combine with the hard work of connecting with voters to give people clear choices.
At their worst, local campaigns lack energy and focus, forcing voters to make a choice between unknown candidates. In these races party affiliation or opinions about higher political figures have too much influence on the outcome. Given the make-up of the 2012 electorate, Republicans will not be able to count on winning many listless campaigns.
At this point we do not know how the candidates stack up over 186 districts in terms of their qualifications, fit for the district or willingness to work. If Maine GOP Chair Charlie Webster and the leadership caucuses have matched their recruitment success from 2010, Republicans will be in a strong position to hold their majorities in the House and Senate.
On several occasions over the last two years, Gov. LePage has taken the Republican-controlled Legislature to task for not going fast or far enough. He questioned the pace of their work, their resolve and wondered aloud if he should not spend some time on the campaign trail to “ask the Maine people to send people (to Augusta) who are willing to work.”
With patience and principle, Republicans in the Legislature have pushed forward and enacted much of Gov. LePage’s agenda. While the governor was not always happy with the outcome, Republicans in Augusta have carried LePage’s water and, with the second half of his term at stake, it is time for him to return the favor.
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is former communications director for Gov. LePage. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter.com @demerittdan.