Two years after Ron Paul supporters took over the Maine Republican Convention at the Augusta Civic Center causing a split in the party. This time around, the venue has changed as the Maine GOP gathered at the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor preaching a different message. A message of unity.
The past two Maine Republican party conventions were wrought with division, but this year has a decidedly different feel as new party Chairman Rick Bennett is preaching a more united Republican party.
“There are common principles that we unite under. We believe in limited government, free markets and individual liberty,” Bennett said. “But we accommodate a lot of variations below those kind of principles in terms of how people perceive them and so there’s a lot more for us to unite around.”
In 2010, Republicans won control of Augusta with the election of Governor Paul LePage and majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years. But that majority was short-lived as Democrats took back control just two years later. Now, for the first time in decades, there will be a Republican candidate on the ballot for all 35 senate seats and all 151 house seats, which Bennett hopes is enough to regain that majority.
“Our job is to get the candidates out there,” Bennett said. “Have the candidates give their message. it’s Maine voters opportunity then to pick who they want. If we do our job well, we should have a majority.”
Bennett also has the Maine Republican Party branching out to recruit women with “She Leads”, the Maine GOP women’s initiative and younger voters with their new “Gen-207″ initiative. “gen-207″ is a new group of younger Republicans, working to understand the issues from a youth perspective.
“What we try to do is we try to have conversations with young people with anybody in Maine about Maine politics,” said Joe Turcotte, a lead staffer with Gen-207. “We try to go to the fringes and we’re not afraid to do that. Because we know that in order for our party to be strong we need to grow.”
Maine Republicans also adopted a new party platform, one that opposes new taxes and defends the individual’s right to bear arms. It also urges the repeal of the “Common Core Standards”, uniform K-12 academic standards geared toward students earning a proficiency based diploma. The new standards have come under fire from many Republicans who think local control of school curriculum is being superseded. Common Core opponents also say the data collection component that goes along with the standards are unnecessary and intrusive.
The convention continues Saturday when Senator Susan Collins, Governor LePage and Kentucky Senator and possible Republican Presidential hopeful Rand Paul take the stage.