Thursday, December 5, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. – Maine Republicans went home from their party's national convention this week barely on speaking terms, after a deep divide flared in front of thousands of fellow party members and media from around the world.
Maine Republican party chairman Charlie Webster
But there should be plenty of talk in Waterville on Saturday, when the Maine Republican Party's State Committee meets in the wake of the dispute between party stalwarts and supporters of libertarian Ron Paul.
The decision by Republican National Committee members to unseat some delegates and alternates loyal to Paul at Mitt Romney's nominating party infuriated and energized libertarians within the Maine Republican Party.
With self-described libertarians and constitutionalists holding nearly half of the State Committee's seats, they plan to speak out against what they see as unfair treatment of Paul's supporters at the Republican National Convention -- treatment they say began in Maine, continued in Tampa and is coming back home to roost.
"It's going to be very difficult this Saturday," said Hayes Gahagan, chairman of the Aroostook County Republican Committee and one of the 10 Romney supporters who were chosen to replace the 10 displaced Paul delegates.
In some ways, Gahagan has his feet in both factions of a Maine Republican Party that, working together, helped elect conservative Gov. Paul LePage and Republican majorities in both chambers of the Legislature in 2010.
Although he's a Romney supporter who has been active in Maine Republican politics for decades, he considers himself libertarian-minded.
Whether that coalition is splintering or simply having growing pains could determine whether Republicans maintain their historic gains in Maine, a state that before 2010 was regarded as solidly Democratic.
The Paul supporters who went to Tampa this week have said they aren't going away.
"We are staying involved at the local level," said Brent Tweed, a leader of the pro-Paul delegation, after he and others walked out of the convention hall in protest. "They have only energized our people."
Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said there is no question that the issue is coming back to Maine from Tampa. But he said it's hard to say so soon how it will affect Republican politics in Maine, heading into November elections in which Democrats hope to regain control of the State House.
"I generally tend to think that, by the time we get to November, that the implications won't be as grave as they are right now," he said.
Brewer said he believes that Paul's supporters, tea party members and others who are frustrated with recent events will want to avoid the consequences of a divided party.
The biggest, most immediate consequence, he said, would be enabling Democrats in the Legislature to shut down LePage's policy agenda.
LePage's decision to skip the national convention after the RNC unseated the 10 delegates appeared to give him an instant boost among the Paul supporters in Tampa, who thanked LePage publicly and in a news release.
But Brewer noted that the dispute in Maine between traditional Republicans and the newer wave of libertarians is playing out across the country. He foresees potentially much bigger, long-term implications for the party nationally.
"This is a fight for the soul of the Republican Party and what the Republican Party is all about going forward," Brewer said. "I think this is just the latest in a series of battles of different factions within the GOP."
That struggle was on full display at the convention in Tampa, despite RNC officials' attempts to show a party unified behind Romney.
"The Maine delegates," as they became known, were the stars of a minor story line that kept going for three days thanks to some vocal, highly visible sympathizers from Texas and the media's appetite for anything unscripted amid the convention's stage shows.
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