AUGUSTA – The former Maine Senate president elected Saturday to lead the state Republican Party said he will be a unifier and push for a more prosperous Maine.

Rick Bennett of Oxford, who heads a Portland-based research firm, was the choice of the state delegates who filled Augusta City Center’s Lecture Hall.

“I think I was a unity candidate,” Bennett said after the meeting. “I really want to help bring everybody together so we can work on policies for a more prosperous Maine and more opportunities for people, like my daughter, who are coming of age.”

Bennett, 50, said he was grateful for the support of Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and numerous other Republicans.

“There’s much more that unites us than divides us,” he said. “We’re a big tent. We represent a lot of people with different perspectives and experiences.”

He said the Republicans all want limited government, individual freedom and “a free market that creates opportunities for small businesses to flourish.”

Bennett, a two-time chairman of the Maine Republican State Convention, had the endorsement of LePage — who was marching in a parade Saturday at the Potato Blossom Festival in Fort Fairfield — and 39 members of the 77-member state committee.

Bennett was one of three candidates who sought the position. The other two were John McKane, 61, of Newcastle, who served eight years in the Maine House; and Sam Canders, 36, of Bangor, a U.S. Army and Air National Guard veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

Susan Morissette of Winslow, who just finished a term in the Maine House, was elected vice chairwoman. She is chairwoman of the Kennebec County Republican Party as well.

The previous state GOP chairman, Richard M. Cebra of Naples, resigned three weeks ago, citing personal reasons.

The election was the first order of business at Saturday’s meeting. Once elected, Bennett launched right into his new role, conducting the several-hours-long meeting, which included choosing Bangor as the site of the 2014 GOP state convention. Augusta and Lewiston were also contenders.

All three candidates for the chairmanship lobbied for votes in the hall before the meeting.

McKane campaigned on a platform of party unity. He said he was concerned about Republicans being split into different factions.

“We’ve got to begin to work together again. We had an incredible amount of energy at the 2012 convention,” he said, pulling a large color photo of that event from a manila envelope. “Those people and that energy are still out there.”

McKane was campaign coordinator for Lincoln County last year.

Canders sought a return to grass-roots activism rather than consolidating power at the top of the party. “I’d like to see the party go in a new direction and start over,” he said.

He was a pilot in the military, serving first in the U.S. Army and later in the Air National Guard, including four tours in Afghanistan.

The vote count took a few minutes. Vote totals were not released. 

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

badams@centralmaine.com