Convention attendees clap during a speech Friday by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, at the Maine Republican Party convention at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Republican legislative leaders kicked off a two-day convention Friday by calling on the party faithful to regain the trust of women and nonpolitical Mainers, saying they are key to winning control of state government from Democrats.

Delivering that message to begin the 2024 convention were two women – Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, and Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield.

They criticized Democrats, who control both Legislative chambers and the Blaine House, for efforts last session to raid the highway fund to increase government spending (which was later reversed), reduce punishment for criminals and adopt policies they argued will erode parental rights.

“We just completed a terrible, horrible and disgusting legislative session in Augusta,” Arata said. “Democrats seem to care more about shutting down prisons, defunding the police, turning our cities into crime-ridden dystopias instead of representing the regular, honest, hardworking Mainers who depend on us to vote for laws that protect their rights.”

Keim said Republicans need to make a concerted effort to win back women voters and people who don’t closely follow politics. Those women especially need to know where Republicans stand on issues like public safety, parental rights, education, the economy, drug abuse and cultural issues “like protecting our girls.”

Keim, who drew laughter by referring to Portland as “the People’s Republic of Portland,” said “it’s clear the Republican brand has lost the trust of many women.” She said the Republicans were the ones looking to restore “law and order.”


“We are right on the issues – they just need to understand how that is,” she said. “How we frame those issues … We need to give voice to our core values in a way that our nonpolitical neighbors can hear us. We need to win them, first their hearts and then their minds. We do this not by vilifying people or using demeaning labels but focusing on the negative impacts of policy and offering hope grounded in a plan.”

State Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, left, takes a camouflage hat from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Friday at the Maine Republican Party convention in the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The message received a lukewarm reception from convention-goers who remain firmly behind former President Donald Trump. The party’s presidential nominee has made personal insults a key part of his campaign repertoire and faces a variety of criminal and civil lawsuits, ranging from business fraud, hush money payments for alleged affairs, keeping classified documents after leaving office and trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Banners throughout the Augusta Civic Center read “MAGA Country,” “Trump Won,” “Women For Trump,” and “End Political Persecution: Electe Trump.”

Calls to win over women also come amid the fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn abortion protections afforded under Roe v. Wade. The ruling led to a wave of anti-abortion legislation in Republican-led states and has driven Democratic victories in recent election cycles.


Sen. Susan Collins, who is not supporting Trump’s reelection bid, took to the stage to muted applause, a smattering of boos and someone who called her a traitor at least twice. Collins did not speak about Trump, or weigh in on either Republican primary for the U.S. House of Representatives.


Instead, Collins criticized Biden and progressive Democratic policies, ranging from the southern border crisis to inflation to expanding social welfare programs that she said discouraged work. 

Austin Theriault, Republican candidate for the second congressional district, speaks on Friday at the Maine Republican Party convention in the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We Republicans support legal immigration and recognize the many contributions of legal migrants,” Collins said. “What we don’t support is an out-of-control system that penalizes those who play by the rules and rewards Mexican cartels and Chinese crime syndicates. And we don’t support a porous border that provides a gateway for fentanyl dealers, human traffickers and terrorists.”

State Reps. Michael Soboleski, R-Phillips, and Austin Theriault, R-Fort Fairfield, are vying for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Jared Golden in the 2nd District. Both addressed the convention and Trump figured prominently in each candidate’s speech.

The former president and House Speaker Mike Johnson have endorsed Theriault, who had a cardboard cutout of Trump at his booth and touts Trump’s approval on his campaign signs. But that didn’t dampen Soboleski’s embrace of Trump. His booth featured signs saying “President Trump: Mike has your back” and the candidate promised to work hard to get Trump reelected.

Soboleski, a former U.S Marine and former professional actor and stuntman who volunteered at Ground Zero after 9/11, sought to frame himself as the outsider in the race. “I’m the last person the establishment wants Washington,” he said. He said politics is no longer about Republicans versus Democrats but “good versus evil.”

His biggest applause line was saying he would work with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to put Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in jail for the national response to COVID. “That man belongs in prison,” Soboleski said.


Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, introduced Theriault and pushed back against Soboleski, though not by name, saying that Theriault is “not a professional actor.”

Theriault, a former NASCAR driver, played up his Aroostook County roots and repeatedly touted Trump’s endorsement. He also attacked Golden for reversing his opposition to gun control measures to support an assault weapons ban following the mass shooting in Lewiston that killed 18 people and wounded 13.

“He’s turned his back on law-abiding Mainers who he promised to defend their Second Amendment rights,” Theriault said. “It’s unacceptable and Jared Golden needs to be held accountable for flip-flopping on this issue and not standing with the Maine people in the 2nd District.”

Convention attendees clap during a speech by Austin Theriault, who is vying with Michael Soboleski for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Rep. Jared Golden for his 2nd District. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Trump’s former press secretary, Sean Spicer, was scheduled to address the convention Friday evening. That speech is closed to the media.

The convention is scheduled to conclude Saturday afternoon, when the party is expected to debate its platform.



A draft of the proposed platform seeks to walk-back some of the more inflammatory language added through a series of floor amendments two years ago, including opposition to “sexually based material” in school and support for a bill that would define “sex abuse” in schools as teaching or promoting genders other than male and female.

But the proposed platform calls for publicly funded school athletics to be limited to a person’s biological sex, recognizes marriage as only between a man and a woman and opposes abortion.

It’s unclear how many amendments may be offered from the floor. A spokesperson for the party said Friday that the list of amendments filed by the April 18 deadline was not yet available.

Convention-goers watched political ads during the lunch break highlighting the southern border crisis and accusing Democrats of trying to create a safe haven for minors who want to change genders – a reference to a new shield law, which Democrats passed and Mills signed, to protect medical providers who offer legally protected abortion serves and age-appropriate gender-affirming care. Maine law allows minors to get limited gender affirming care under certain circumstances.

The ads also accused Democrats of trying to “replace us with illegals,” a reference to efforts to integrate immigrants and asylum seekers into the workforce, and “indoctrinating our children” by accommodating transgender students in schools. The ads also highlighted Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ unsuccessful effort to remove Trump from the ballot over his involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building.

Keim said that Republicans should focus their messaging on protecting children and school choice, which would divert public education funding to private schools.

“We fight for our children,” she said. “That message will reach every momma bear in Maine.”

The Maine Democratic Party will hold its convention from May 31 to June 1 in Bangor.

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