We may be barely more than a month into the new calendar year, and still struggling through a cold, snowy winter, but we’re well into the candidate recruitment cycle for the 2022 elections.

At the federal level, it’s essentially complete: Nearly all credible candidates for the U.S. House or Senate have announced their candidacies and begun raising money. For the state legislative races, the candidate recruitment cycle is a little more in flux, but it’s already well along: Candidates have already begun collecting signatures and, if they’re running clean, $5 qualifying checks.

Although we won’t have a comprehensive list of all the candidates until after they turn in their signatures, the pattern here in Maine seems to be following the pattern nationally early on: Republicans are generally doing a good job recruiting candidates, while Democrats are facing more challenges. Here in Maine, as they have nationally, Democrats have faced unexpected retirements, and not just in solidly Democratic districts, either.

With a national political environment that seems to be, for the moment, favoring Republicans, it’s only natural for Democrats to face headwinds in trying to recruit people to run for office. This is a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy: when it appears that the political environment is easier for one party than the other, everything begins to get easier for that party, and that in and of itself creates a favorable political environment for them. Still, while Republicans seem to have initially done a good job recruiting candidates in both the Maine House and the Senate – always a key part of the puzzle – they have yet to lay out what, precisely, their overarching agenda will be should they retake the majority this November.

With Democrats in sole control of the levers of power in Augusta, Republicans might like to campaign as simply the loyal opposition, eager to impose oversight and responsibility over the Mills administration. That’s an understandable impulse, as one of the problems of handing one party sole power in Augusta is that it leads to a distinct lack of oversight. One example of that is that, just as the state receives an influx of federal money, the state auditor position is currently filled only on an acting basis, ever since the former state auditor resigned from the position after failing to get his professional license. The problem with making that your entire platform is that it doesn’t give voters much a hint of what actual policies you might implement to help them should you regain the majority.

Now, as the second session of the Legislature gets underway, would be an excellent time for Republican legislative candidates – whether incumbents, those seeking a promotion or total newcomers – to pick a few key issues on which to campaign. One of the issues that should be at the top of the agenda for Maine Republicans is school choice. Maine already has school choice in some places, but it’s an extremely limited program, and anti-choice activists frequently try to undo it, whether in small towns (like my hometown, Alna) or in Portland, the state’s largest city. While Democratic elites have always been worried about school choice, since they’re concerned about it undermining teachers unions, it’s a concept that’s frequently enjoyed bipartisan support among ordinary voters. Maine Republicans have typically supported school choice more than Democrats, but they’ve shied away from any serious attempt to implement a comprehensive, statewide program to make it more widely available.

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That’s a shame, and it’s long past time for that to change. The pandemic has only highlighted the issue as parents in Maine and across the country have struggled through school closures and remote learning. Republicans ought to embrace school choice, pointing out that they’re most concerned with doing what’s best for kids. It’s a prime example of a conservative policy that increases freedom and opportunity for all families, while threatening only entrenched special interests whose primary goal is maintaining their grip on power.

School choice isn’t the only issue Republicans should be running on this year, of course – it’s just one example of a typical conservative position that has risen in prominence during the pandemic. Successful Republican candidates will need to find other issues that appeal to traditional conservative values, have bipartisan appeal and have risen in importance as of late. They have to do more than find the right candidates, work hard and criticize Democrats: They need to offer some solutions.

Then they might have a chance at a real comeback victory in Maine.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel


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