Well, that was certainly … an election.

Much like the sloppy game the New England Patriots managed to win against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, Democrats – both nationally and here in Maine – didn’t so much win as avoid a loss. While Democrats may have woken up Wednesday celebrating, they shouldn’t be celebrating. They should instead feel a sense of relief. They avoided disaster (by a relatively slim margin) by tempering Republicans’ gains nationwide and retaining control of the Maine Legislature. The results of the past week contain similar lessons for both parties in Maine and nationally, many of which were readily apparent long before the election.

One of the lessons is that it’s time for both parties to move forward rather than re-litigating old battles. The Maine GOP, in particular, needs to move on fully from the Paul LePage era. LePage has dominated the party since he was first elected to the Blaine House. That’s not to say it was a mistake to give the sitting governor the keys to state party headquarters when he was in office; that’s typical in Maine and in many other states when your party controls the governorship. At the federal level, it’s also true of the Republican National Committee when the party has the White House. Now, though, there needs to be a serious reexamination of how the Maine Republican Party handles elections.

To be clear, that means the Maine GOP needs a new party chairman, at the very least. It’s time for Demi Kouzounas to step aside and give someone else a chance in that position. While it may not be entirely her fault that Republicans failed to make gains in Maine this year, it’s time that she (finally) take responsibility for it nonetheless. If that seems unfair, remember that it’s part and parcel of serving in leadership at any organization – or, at least, it ought to be.

Nationally, Republicans should move on from Donald Trump; this week’s results show that allowing him to handpick candidates in every race is not a formula for success.

That also means that both parties should stop renominating old candidates who aren’t incumbents. Maine Republicans probably would have been better served by finding new candidates for both governor and the second congressional district.

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It doesn’t mean that either Paul LePage or Bruce Poliquin were necessarily doomed to failure, nor that someone different would have been assured victory, but they certainly would have been more likely to do things differently. Part of the problem with the same person running again is that they tend to simply run the same campaign that they did last time. That’s understandable – the formula worked for them in the past. But it’s about as reliable a tactic in politics as it is in sports. Just as Bill Belichick doesn’t use the exact same strategy against every opponent each week, running the same campaigns with the same candidates every cycle isn’t a silver bullet. One has to recognize that not only do the time, issues, and circumstances change every year; if you don’t, you’ll wind up with the exact results that Republicans got in Maine this cycle.

Maine Republicans need to not just find new candidates but a new approach, and they need it fast.

That doesn’t mean that they need to completely reinvent politics from the ground up; there are successful models for them to adopt in Maine. One example of a strategy that both they and national Republicans need to immediately abandon is the avoidance of issues that are inconvenient for them. This was especially obvious in Maine with abortion: LePage and other Republicans largely tried to ignore it. Mills and other Democrats made it very clear where they stood. That trickled down to individual legislative races, where Democratic candidates were more than eager to tout their position on the issue while Republicans tried to avoid taking one at all. It wasn’t just abortion. Maine Republicans never put out a comprehensive agenda on what they would do if they got the majority, and Washington Republicans really didn’t either.

It’s not enough to rerun campaigns of the past and avoid the controversial issues; that’s dusty, old conventional wisdom that has clearly run its course. Instead, Republicans need to find new candidates who will take on the tough issues that worry voters. That’s the real takeaway from last Tuesday, and hopefully it’s one that won’t fall on deaf ears in Washington or Augusta.

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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