July 26, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Maine Republican chairman copes with twin images

When it comes to political messaging, images mean everything. So let's take a look at two visuals, both with deep Maine Republican roots, as they meander through cyberspace this week.


Listen to a podcast of Bill Nemitz talking about this column and other issues this morming on  NewsRadio 560 WGAN.

The first is that already iconic photo of George H.W. Bush with 2-year-old Patrick, the son of a Secret Service agent, sitting on the former president's lap at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport.

Patrick has no hair because of the leukemia treatment he's currently receiving. Bush has no hair because, following the lead of every member of his security detail, he had his head shaved to show his support for little Patrick.

"Everyone has nominated this for story of the week," Jim McGrath, Bush's spokesman, told Press Herald reporter Dennis Hoey this week. "The public's reaction has been very positive."

As well it should be. The older the 89-year-old Bush gets, the more endearing he becomes to Americans of all political stripes with his mismatched socks, his oh-so-candid utterances and that twinkle in his eye that suggests he's discovered in old age what's truly most important in life.

Now for the second image – an illustrated flier promoting a "Summer Fun Raffle" to raise funds for the Sagadahoc County Maine Republicans.

Fifth prize is a horseback riding lesson at a local stable; fourth is a gift basket from a local orchard; third and second prizes are a gift card and a camping package from L.L. Bean. And first prize is ... drum roll please ...

A handgun.

That's right, lucky Republicans. A $5 ticket (or five for $20) can make you the proud owner of a Sig Sauer P238 Equinox. It's worth between $650 and $700 and, as the manufacturer notes on its website, "is pretty to look at and beautiful to shoot."

OK, so the handgun giveaway is just the brainchild of a county Republican organization in a part of the state where talk of gun rights, among others, happens to be running rabid these days.

To truly gauge the current image of Maine's Republican Party, let's go to its statewide website and see what we find: That totally disarming photo of Kennebunkport's most famous resident sans hair? Or something less warm and fuzzy?

"You're invited! Maine GOP Firearm Training Day for Concealed Carry Permit," screams the banner headline atop the home page.

It's an all-day event that was supposed to be held on July 13 – except it wasn't. Click on the banner and you'll see that it's been postponed until September – except that might not happen, either.

"I think it's an idea that was something the previous chair (Richard Cebra of Naples) had initiated," Rick Bennett, Maine's new Republican chairman, said in an interview Thursday. "I'm not sure whether we're going to go through with it or not at this point."

Good answer. A better one might be: "Hold on while I take that firearms-training promo down off the website and plug in that can't-miss photo of President Bush!"

Bennett's election to chairman last weekend comes, as he put it, at "a very interesting time to be a Republican in Maine and probably across the nation."

He is, without doubt, a much-needed stabilizing influence on a state party that hasn't stopped ricocheting around the political arena since its now infamous state convention back in May of 2012.

That free-for-all, you'll recall, produced a party platform straight from the Twilight Zone and a slate of Ron Paul delegates to the Republican National Convention who had their seats pulled out from under them the moment they arrived in Tampa. Not surprisingly, it also handed Maine's Democrats majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

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