Multiple candidates seek to lead the Maine Republican Party as it tries to rebound from bruising election losses in November.

Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas is seeking a fourth term as leader of the state party, saying it will be her final two-year term. She touted the party’s fundraising success under her leadership in a brief written statement that did not address the party’s failure to win majorities in the Legislature or the governor’s office.

One challenger is former Rep. Joel Stetkis of Canaan, who served as House minority leader in the previous Legislature. He did not directly criticize Kouzounas in a recent interview, but said he wants to focus more on local and legislative races and candidates as opposed to top-of-the-ticket races such as governor.

“My focus would be on winning elections,” Stetkis said. “It’s not rocket science. It’s winning elections. I feel Republicans and the principles that we hold dear are a greater benefit to the Maine people and would be an improvement on their lives, their livelihoods and their families.”

Stetkis took conservative positions on issues as a legislator, including opposing increases in the minimum wage, calling the state’s clean elections program “welfare for politicians,” and opposing mask and vaccine mandates.

Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, also is seeking the post, according to a report in the Maine Wire, a conservative news website. Sampson did not respond to an interview request about her interest in the job after requesting that questions be submitted in writing.


If elected as party leader, Sampson would have to resign from the Legislature. The party bylaws prohibit legislators from being officers.

Sampson has been an outspoken conservative, once comparing vaccine mandates to Nazi medical experiments during the Holocaust. She also called for a forensic audit of Maine’s 2020 presidential election results, something former President Donald Trump’s allies did around the country as he fought to overturn the election.

The party is expected to elect a new chairperson on Jan. 28. It’s not unusual to have multiple candidates for the job and other candidates could still emerge.

The Maine Democratic Party, which outperformed expectations in November, will hold its leadership elections on Jan. 23. Chairman Drew Gattine, who was elected to a seat in the House, announced that he plans to step down at the end of his term as party leader.

Bev Uhlenhake, who is now vice chair of the state party, has announced her candidacy for the top leadership post.

The state party chairs work primarily behind-the-scenes overseeing their statewide organizations, helping to shape the parties’ priorities and messaging and hiring the executive directors.


Kouzounas, who has served as Republican party chairwoman since 2017, declined an interview request but confirmed in a written statement that she is running for a fourth – and final – term as party chairwoman. She also has proposed creating a succession committee to “ensure a seamless and professional transition” to a new chair after the next general election.

“As I have told many people, my greatest concern and top priority is ensuring that the state party continues as a professional organization that is able to fund and execute key operations that all Republican candidates, from school board to president, rely upon,” she said. “My experience in leading the party has resulted in record levels of funding and fundraising, and I intend to continue growing our donor base, programs and grassroots for the long-term success of the party and ultimately, for the good of our state.”

A party spokesperson said, if reelected, Kouzounas plans to step down from her dental practice and focus on the state party full time.

Kouzounas’ written statement did not address the November election, when Democrats won the governor’s race and a majority of seats in both the Maine House and Senate.

“As a state party, we build the operations that support our candidates,” she said. “While some candidates are successful and some are not, we must continue the work to build the best machine possible to support their campaigns, not fall backward into the mindset and tactics of the past.”

The leadership decision comes as Republicans in Maine and nationwide are regrouping from the midterm elections, when the party was expected to have an edge over Democrats. The party in control of the White House usually loses seats in Congress and at the state level during midterm elections. That trend, coupled with historically high inflation, caused many pundits to predict a red wave for Republicans that never came. In Maine, Democrats held onto the governor’s office and majority control of both houses of the Legislature.


Republicans at all levels have called for more self evaluation after the elections. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who has represented the state in the U.S. Senate since 1997, said the national party has lost many moderate and independent voters and needs “to take a hard look at why.”

Mark Brewer, a professor and chair of the political science department at the University of Maine in Orono, said it would be unusual for Kouzounas to be elected to a fourth term, especially after another disappointing election cycle that was supposed to favor their party.

Brewer noted that Republicans have lost the last two gubernatorial elections. But, he said, “maybe even more disappointing is the legislative outcome. Republicans and a lot of outside observers thought they were going to get one, if not both, of these chambers back and they didn’t,” Brewer said. “As an outsider looking in, given the results of the last few cycles, I would favor change and what that change would look like would be up for debate.”

Brewer said the party itself seems unsettled about which direction to go, pointing to the first vote on the $473 million heating and energy assistance bill Dec. 7. The bill was overwhelmingly supported by House Republicans but blocked by Senate Republicans.

While the race for leadership is underway, some Republicans also are looking to change the conservative party platform adopted last summer. It defines marriage as between a man and a women and opposes abortion, teaching sex education in school and helping asylum seekers.

Stephanie Anderson, a former district attorney who chairs the Cumberland County Republican Committee, said she plans to seek a seat on the party’s platform committee. Anderson said she believes the platform has become a liability for some candidates.


“I think we need to pivot on some directions,” said Anderson, who also believes the party underestimated the role abortion would play in the November election.

Anderson pointed to the plank that defines marriage as between a man and a woman as an example of something that needs changing. “We have not had a positive, compassionate message,” Anderson said. “That has been lost in all of the screaming. And I think GOP is very positive and compassionate. That’s how the messaging can be changed.”

Stetkis, a 56-year-old who just finished his fourth term in the House, said he would leave concerns about the platform for others to address and doesn’t think many Republicans pay much attention to the statement of values approved at the state party convention.

Stetkis said he doesn’t think there’s “one specific reason” why Republicans did not perform better last fall. But he stressed the importance of finding the right candidates for office.

“I worked on multiple campaigns in different parts of the state and we had fantastic success in some areas of the state and in other parts of the state were dismal and there is no rhyme or reason to it,” he said. 

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