AUGUSTA — The leadership of the Maine Republican Party is facing a challenge in the wake of the crushing defeat it suffered in November.

At least two Republican lawmakers, former Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and former state Rep. Heather Sirocki of Scarborough, are considering making a bid for the party’s helm.

Mason got the backing of the four Republican leaders in the Legislature – all now in the minority – who urged the party’s state committee to turn to Mason to lead the party for the next two years, with former House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport as his second-in-command.

The four legislative leaders – Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow of Waldoboro, Senate Assistant Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake of Turner, House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford and Assistant Minority Leader Trey Stewart of Presque Isle – said the Democrats’ wins in November “represent a lack of cooperation and coordination that has existed between party headquarters and legislative leadership for far too long.”

In a letter to Republican leaders, they said Mason and Fredette can help counter the Democrats, who took control of the Blaine House, the Senate, the House and both of Maine’s congressional seats.

Whether the challengers have enough support to emerge on top is unclear.

Demi Kouzounas of Saco has led the party for the past two years and is seeking re-election.

She recently hailed the “epic American turnaround” that she insisted Maine made during the eight years that Republican Paul LePage was governor.

LePage strongly endorsed Kouzounas in a letter to Republican leaders, insisting the party needs “to tweak and make changes,” but there’s no reason “to throw the baby out with the bathwater” by turning to the legislative leaders with whom LePage often clashed.

“We need to be willing to take the fight on, and not simply point fingers,” LePage wrote. “Starting over is not necessary.”

Kouzounas said Democratic Gov. Janet Mills will face a difficult path forward because many groups that helped elect her “will soon be demanding destructive economic policy and government handouts and favors,” LePage said.

The four Republican legislative leaders said the party has “an uphill battle over the next two years to try and mitigate the far-left pieces of legislation that are sure to come forth.”

They said that picking Mason and Fredette would give them the best chance of holding Democrats in check. Both men fell short in gubernatorial bids last year when primary voters opted for Shawn Moody as their standard-bearer for the state’s top job.

Both Republicans and Democrats are picking their party leadership teams at meetings this weekend.

The Democrats will choose either Kathleen Marra of Kittery or Melissa Sterry of Augusta to succeed Phil Bartlett, who is stepping down after guiding the party since 2014. Mills has endorsed Marra.

Former state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate last year, said he considered running for the state party chairmanship but decided he wasn’t the right fit for the job because he’s not inclined to be partisan.

Steve Collins can be contacted at:

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