At the age of 12, I sat up late one night in 1960 to tape record Richard Nixon’s Republican presidential nomination speech. It was the start of a lifelong Republican affliction.

Barry Goldwater established me as a conservative in 1964, and by the fall of 1968 I was hitting the streets of Bangor to help Nixon get elected. In my four previous semesters at the University of Maine, I made the honor roll. But I spent so much time campaigning for Nixon that fall, my fifth semester at UMaine, that I nearly flunked all of my classes.

By 1972, I had become disillusioned with Nixon, mostly because of the Vietnam War, and I drove a VW busload of friends to the Republican national convention in August. Most of my friends, including my brother, were inside the convention with the Maine delegation.

I was expressing my independence outside in the streets, protesting the war. It was the first and only time I got tear-gassed — an experience you never forget. But I remained a Republican, convinced that I could do that without supporting my party’s nominee for re-election to the presidency.

My first paid political job was driver for Bill Cohen in his first campaign for Congress, and just two years later, I was managing Dave Emery’s first campaign for Congress. Working eight years for Dave was a highlight of my political career.

I participated in the meeting where Olympia Snowe was drafted to run for Congress, and worked for all the major Republican candidates for many years after that — until I left the Republican reservation to support Angus King in his first campaign for governor.

That year, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, my employer, endorsed Angus. It was the only time the two major party candidates, Susan Collins and Joe Brennan, agreed on anything. They both attacked SAM and me on the front page of the state’s newspapers.

It took awhile, but eventually Susan got over that. When SAM endorsed her campaign for the United States Senate, our previous deviancy was forgiven. And I assisted on that campaign.

Susan is an amazing person, intensely focused, always on top of everything from the issue at hand to her daily schedule. I guarantee if you are briefing her on an issue, she already knows more than you do about it.

For inspiration throughout my life as a Republican, I looked to President Teddy Roosevelt, the strongest conservationist ever elected to the nation’s highest office. His record — to this day — makes me proud to be a Republican.

When I was a young man, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, whose sister owned a store in my hometown of Winthrop, inspired me. I was crushed when she lost her final race for re-election. But even today, she is best known for her independence.

If you look back through those at the national and state level who inspired me, kept me active in politics, sometimes employed me, and always made me proud, several characteristics stand out — none more than their intelligence and independence. Perhaps the two go together.

I didn’t agree with every position they took, of course. But I always appreciated their thoughtful and thorough consideration of every important issue. And it is only in retrospect, as our state and nation’s politics has gotten so ugly and divisive, that I’ve come to admire their ability to collaborate and cooperate with others who didn’t share their views. Bill Cohen, Dave Emery, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — Republicans all — were widely admired and successful politicians because of these qualities.

Only Susan Collins remains in office, and I’ve been alarmed by the recent opinions of the political pundits that she might face a serious challenge in the 2014 Republican primary from the conservative tea party wing of my party.

As my party in Maine has come to be dominated by the tea partyers, I’ve been saddened by the number of friends who have left the party, choosing to become unenrolled voters. It appears that I may, in the end, be the only non-tea partyer left in Maine’s Republican Party. That will be no party for me.

But I could no more leave the Republican Party than I could renounce my name and state. I am a Smith. I am a native Mainer. I am a Republican. And I am a conservative.

And today, as all of those, I am endorsing Susan Collins for re-election to the United States Senate. Let’s hope I’m not the only conservative Republican to do so!

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.