You would be forgiven if you were completely unaware that a special election was coming up for a vacant seat in the Maine House representing District 49, the city of Bath.

Unlike the last legislative vacancy, when the sitting legislator resigned after being indicted, this one hasn’t been all over the papers – the media has barely noticed it. That’s understandable, given that the circumstances are much lower-key and noncontroversial. It’s not just the media that has chosen to ignore this particular election, though: Maine Republicans seem to be unaware of it as well. They won’t even have a candidate on the ballot, leaving the district to the Democrats.

At a certain level, it’s understandable that the state party would choose to ignore this particular district – it’s unlikely to ever be competitive in the general election.

Former President Donald Trump garnered less than 30% of the vote in Bath in 2020, a slight drop-off from his dismal performance there in 2016. Last year, the local race was slightly closer, but hardly competitive: The Republican candidate got about 42% of the vote. What’s depressing, from a Republican perspective, is that this district isn’t even one of the most Democratic. There are more than three dozen other districts where the Republican did worse, not including the dozen-plus districts where no Republican ran at all. That puts about a third of the Maine House in the Democratic column right off the bat.

So the state party is probably right to write off the district, at least for the moment. What’s less understandable is why no Republican is running at all, and why so many districts were left uncontested by Maine Republicans last fall. That’s reflective of two factors that are troubling for Republican hopes next November: a lack of organization and a lack of unity at all levels.

You may be wondering why it’s worth fielding a candidate at all in an uncompetitive district. Doesn’t that just waste time and money that could be better spent elsewhere? Well, it doesn’t necessarily. The state party and legislative leadership can always be selective in how they allocate their resources. Having someone on the ballot, though, does help the cause in a number of simple ways.


For one, it gives some aspiring local activist the chance to build experience, connections and name recognition for future campaigns. Maine is replete with examples of candidates who failed at their first attempt, only to succeed later, either for a different office or under different circumstances. Many uncompetitive Maine House districts, for instance, are located within competitive Maine Senate districts.

In Sagadahoc County as a whole, Donald Trump did better than in Bath, getting around 40% of the vote in 2020. That suggests that the right Republican candidate could prevail there – and, indeed, it has see-sawed back and forth until recently. The Senate district was represented from 2014 to 2016 by Republican Linda Baker, who lost reelection in the primary thanks to former Gov. Paul LePage’s involvement; Democrats handily won the seat back and have held it ever since.

Reclaiming that district won’t be easy for Republicans, but it will be nearly impossible without a well-organized, well-motivated, united local county committee. The lack of a Republican candidate in the district’s largest municipality doesn’t bode well for those efforts. It suggests that in both Bath and Sagadahoc County as a whole, Republicans need to get their act together. Even if it had been in a losing effort, the special election could have been a prime chance for a dry run. Instead, local Republicans have little motivation to get organized before next spring.

It would be one thing if the disorganization and disunity in Sagadahoc County were some unique local phenomenon, but it’s not: Instead, it’s reflective of larger trends plaguing the Republican Party. Republicans must learn, both in Maine and nationally, to avoid the kind of infighting that cost them the Sagadahoc Senate seat. With so many uncompetitive districts already in the Democratic column, Maine Republicans can’t afford any self-inflicted wounds.

If they start there, they could begin to build the kind of disciplined, organized operation that can at least field candidates everywhere, if not be victorious. If they manage to do that, they can show the people of Maine that they take the whole state seriously, not just their devoted base. That’s the first step on the road to recovery for Maine Republicans. If they don’t take it soon, they’ll be doomed to irrelevance.

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

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