The Maine Republican Party took a drubbing in the midterm elections of 2018, but it’s still unclear whether its leaders will remain in place or a significant shake-up is in the works.

The party’s candidates for governor, the U.S. House and U.S. Senate were all defeated – some by wide margins – while Democrats also recaptured control of the Legislature with the largest majorities seen in a decade.

Republican Party Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas said Monday that she hadn’t decided whether she wanted to stay in that role, and that she and other party leaders were still in the “postmortem” stage of digesting the results of the election. She said she remained a strong supporter of President Trump and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, noting that both are up for re-election in 2020.

Demi Kouzounas

“It should hopefully be a comeback with our president running and with Susan Collins running,” said Kouzounas, a dentist from Scarborough. She said that in the meantime, the Republicans who won election to office need to become the watchdogs on spending in hopes of preserving the financial gains that the state made under outgoing Gov. Paul LePage.

Jason Savage, the party’s executive director, declined to comment. But party officials do appear to be looking for feedback from Maine voters with a survey that’s been posted on the party website.

“Clearly, Republican losses in the 2018 elections show that there are things we must do differently or improve upon,” the introduction to the survey reads. “Right now, the small core staff at Maine GOP and others hired for this election season are being asked to provide their thorough, unvarnished opinions and insights into what went wrong in this election.”

‘WE NEED A NEW PLAN’

Former party chairman Charlie Webster and outgoing House Minority Leader Ken Fredette said it’s clear the soul-searching has begun for Kouzounas and her top lieutenants.

Webster did not call for Kouzounas to resign, but said he assumed she would step down as party chair or decide not to run for re-election when the party’s state committee meets in January to pick a new leader.

He also said Republicans needed a different strategy if they hoped to regain some of their losses in 2020.

“I would think we need a new plan,” Webster said. He said part of the problem for Republicans is the need to raise financial support for candidates and campaigns in an era in politics when Republicans have been consistently outspent by Democrats.

Webster said changing the tone or the content of the Republican message and refocusing it on core values of Maine conservatives will also be key if the party hopes to recapture some of the stature lost in 2018.

Fredette, the former House minority leader, agreed that a leadership change may be needed, although he also wasn’t directly calling for any resignations. He said incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s loss of the 2nd District seat to Democrat Jared Golden was especially painful, although the outcome of the first-in-the-nation, ranked-choice voting for a seat in Congress is still being litigated in the federal courts.

Fredette, an attorney, said he would prefer that Poliquin not pursue his lawsuit over the election and focus instead on beginning his efforts now to recapture the seat in 2020. “In my opinion, I would not move forward with a lawsuit on that,” Fredette said. “That’s my own personal, political and legal opinion, but that’s congressman Poliquin’s call.”

And he said LePage’s departure from state government creates an automatic deficit for Republicans.

“With the governor leaving office, that leaves a huge void,” Fredette said. “That’s normal, that’s expected. But anytime you have a leadership void like that, there becomes a process of sort of grinding through how you fill that void.”

RHETORIC FATIGUES VOTERS

Kouzounas, the party chairwoman, said the Democratic message on the need for better access to health care in Maine resonated with voters more than the Republicans’ message of staying the course with LePage-era policies.

Some top Republicans said they expect moderates allied with Collins will seek to regain control of the party, hoping to reshape it to help her win re-election – although Collins herself has not said whether she intends to run again.

Other Republicans, including state Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, who lost her re-election campaign to Democratic challenger Linda Sanborn by less than 200 votes, said Democratic spending was a factor. But she also said voters were fatigued with the firebrand rhetoric coming from LePage and Trump.

“Had there just been two years of Trump, I think I would have been fine,” Volk said. “But we’ve had eight years of a Trump-like leader – that just really turns a lot of people off one way or another. Even when they appreciate some of the policy work that’s been done, they just don’t like the rhetoric. And even though I never participated in that rhetoric, I was still held accountable for it.”

Volk said she would consider working to bring the party to a more moderate position in the future, and she voiced her support for Collins – especially her confirmation vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Volk said her hope is the party of the future “would really take a stand for civility and common-sense conservatism.”