WASHINGTON — Changes might be coming to the way Republicans participate in presidential primaries as party leaders try to avoid a repeat of a 2012 election marred by messy meetings and intraparty fighting.

On Friday, members of the Republican National Committee voted to shorten the process for choosing a presidential nominee. The changes protect the pre-eminent position enjoyed by early voting states such as New Hampshire and Iowa but also aim to avoid the type of drawn-out, bruising primary battle that many believe hurt Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.

“I think the process for nominating the president has dragged on too long,” said Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party and one of the state’s three votes on the Republican National Committee. “I think compressing it and moving the (national) convention earlier is a good idea. And I felt most of the rules changes were geared toward that.”

Some changes are likely to affect Maine Republicans, although to what extent remains unclear.

One major shift under the new rules is that states which hold primaries or caucuses prior to March 15 can award their delegates proportionately, allowing multiple candidates to receive votes during the national nominating convention. Those held after March 15, however, would be winner-take-all.

The result will likely be intense competition during early-state voting but a shorter road to victory for whichever candidate emerges as the front-runner. Republicans also called for fewer debates than the 27 held in 2012.

Bennett suggested that Maine may need to shift the timing of caucus or preference polls, which have often been held on different dates by counties anywhere from February to mid-March. Another option would be to handle the delegate-election business at the state convention.

“Maine is going to have to adapt to whatever the rules are,” Bennett said. He indicated, however, that those decisions will likely wait until after the more immediate focus: the 2014 gubernatorial and State House elections.

Bennett was recruited to serve as chairman in part to heal deep wounds that developed within the party during a 2012 power struggle between supporters of Romney and Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman embraced by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.

According to Maine party officials, Romney narrowly won a series of county caucuses held in February of that year. But the county-by-county preference polls were plagued with problems that left many votes uncounted, at least initially.

Suspecting a pro-Romney plot by the Republican “establishment,” Paul supporters took control of the state convention months later and elected to send a slate of mostly Paul supporters to the Republican National Convention. National Republican leaders – determined to keep the convention a Romney pep rally – ruled that Maine’s convention was improperly run and replaced half of Maine’s Paul convention delegates with Romney supporters.

The plight of Maine’s pro-Paul delegates became a rallying cry for the party’s libertarian wing.

Although barely discussed during Friday’s meeting, the new rules appear aimed at avoiding such situations again by shortening the nomination process. Some observers believe that benefits well-established and well-funded candidates while hurting grassroots campaigns such as the one run by Paul in 2012.

Friday’s vote was lopsided but not unanimous. One of the nine dissenting votes was cast by Ashley Ryan, one of Maine’s three Republican National Committee members.

Ryan was among the Maine delegates who supported Paul in Tampa. She voted against Friday’s rules changes in part because she didn’t believe members were given ample time to review them.

Ryan predicted that the rules will likely have an impact on the state convention in 2016 and will likely prompt discussion about whether to even hold a caucus or preference poll prior to the state convention. And any preference poll will have to be much better organized, she said.

“The caucuses are going to have to be run much more cleanly, efficiently and smoothly and completely aboveboard,” Ryan said. “No votes getting lost in spam filters.”

Rep. Alex Willette, Maine’s third Republican National Committee member, supported the rules but predicted the changes would likely have a bigger impact on primary states instead of caucus states like Maine.

“It appears that the rules changes will help bring an earlier convention, and I think that will be a very good thing for the Republican Party, both in Maine and nationally,” said Willette, who serves as the assistant Republican leader in the Maine House.

YOUNGEST DELEGATION IN D.C.

Here’s one interesting fact from last week’s Republican National Committee meeting: Maine’s three-person delegation to the meeting was, by far, the youngest among all of the states.

Ryan became the youngest person ever to serve on the Republican National Committee when she was elected at age 21 in 2012. Now 22, Ryan is still the youngest RNC member but is trailed only slightly by Willette, who at 24 is the youngest man ever elected to the RNC.

So while the national Republican Party continues to struggle to woo younger (and more diverse) members, Maine’s party appears to be far ahead of the curve, at least when it comes to leadership positions.

WREATH REMOVAL AT ARLINGTON

Each December, anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 volunteers gather at Arlington National Cemetery to lay “remembrance wreaths” on the graves of veterans as part of the tradition begun by Maine-based Wreaths Across America.

A much smaller but equally committed crowd converged on Arlington on Saturday to handle the less-publicized part of the tradition: the cleanup.

They’ll be removing more than 140,000 wreaths from what is often described as America’s most hallowed ground, where more than 400,000 veterans and family members are buried just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

Karen Worcester, executive director of Columbia Falls-based Wreaths Across America, estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 people would help. And just like during the wreath-laying ceremonies, a good number of Mainers make the trip south, she said.

“I’m always so amazed,” Worcester said by phone Friday night. “It’s just as personal. People are still so respectful when they go to the graves.”

Worcester’s husband, Morrill, began the tradition in 1992 with about 5,000 wreaths he had left over from his company, Worcester Wreath Co. The event now spans across the country, with 470,000 to 500,000 wreaths laid at graves in 900 cemeteries.

TURCOTTE BOWS OUT

I recently wrote in this column about a Bangor man, Mike Turcotte, who was exploring whether to join Maine’s U.S. Senate race as an independent.

Turcotte said last week that he wouldn’t run, attributing his decision to a “lack of finances and interest” based on the results of a survey posted on his website.

“Although the survey results were encouraging, there were not enough to form a sample based on the number of visits to the website,” Turcotte said. “Of the limited responses, jobs and the economy remain the overwhelming concern for voters. Also scoring high was the reinvestment in America’s infrastructure and limiting the amount of taxpayer dollars going overseas.”

As of right now, the declared candidates for the Senate seat are incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Republican challenger Erick Bennett and Democrat Shenna Bellows.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

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Twitter: @KevinMiller DC