AUGUSTA — Republican leaders, two years removed from a contentious state convention that saw supporters of libertarian candidate Ron Paul clash with Mitt Romney supporters, called for unity at a countywide caucus Saturday at Cony High School.
Republicans need to unite and get behind Republican candidates even if they don’t agree with each other on every single issue, Rick Bennett, chairman of the state Republican Party, told Kennebec County Republicans.
He promised this year’s convention, scheduled for April 25 and 26 in Bangor, will be both fun and unifying, two traits notably missing from 2012’s raucous event.
“If you left the 2012 convention shaking your head, saying, ‘I’m not coming back to this again,’ then, please, don’t miss this one in Bangor,” said Bennett, stressing there will be great unity at the convention this year. “There is important work to be done, but we also need to have a really good, fun time together. That is something that has been missing, and we’re going to bring it back.”
Bennett said it’s no secret the party has “been about sharp elbows at times,” as traditional Republicans mixed, sometimes uncomfortably, with Ron Paul supporters, tea party members and others. But he said Republicans should unite around shared views, such as the benefits of less government and the free market and focus on achieving victory not over people they disagree with 15 or 20 percent of the time, but victory over people they disagree with 80 to 90 percent of the time.
“I see all this energy coming to our party as a wonderful thing,” Bennett told the approximately 150 county convention attendees, who, later in the day, met in separate rooms at Cony for individual town caucuses. “Sure, we have to learn to work together. We’ve got to put our differences aside to achieve victory. There’s a lot more that unites us than divides us.”
Bennett and Maine first lady Ann LePage said Republicans need to unite to make the state and country the best it can be, for everyone’s children.
LePage said the reforms of her husband, Gov. Paul LePage, who did not attend, are working in Maine, citing an unemployment rate that is lower than the federal rate and the lowest it has been in Maine since 2008, ongoing welfare reforms, reform at the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine State Housing Authority, the payment of state funds owed to Maine hospitals, and other changes since he took office.
“With Paul, you’ll always know where he stands on an issue and can count on him to make the tough decisions to move this state forward,” Ann LePage said. “Let’s finish our story. Let’s duplicate 2010.”
A fired-up Bobby Reynolds, of Manchester, political director for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, said Republicans must retain control of the Blaine House and win majorities in the House and Senate.
Reynolds noted the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, passed in the Senate with no Republican votes; which, he said, shows the urgency of Republicans taking control of both chambers.
“We need to turn that around so we can unwind that monstrosity of a law,” Reynolds said of Obamacare. “When you caucus, make sure you sign everybody’s petition, and let’s go get them!”
Curtis Ayotte, committee chairman, urged Republicans to get out and put their “boots on the ground” to advocate for votes for the party’s candidates, asking each attendee to dedicate at least three hours a week to helping one or more candidate.
“The state of Maine will be a better and more prosperous state with Republicans in charge,” Ayotte said. “We must move forward, moving in a unified way, if we want to achieve victory in November.”
Republicans caucus every two years to elect delegates and alternates to the Maine Republican Convention, nominate members to the Kennebec County Republican Committee and organize for the upcoming elections.
Maine Democrats are scheduled to caucus March 2, according to the Maine Democratic Party’s website.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647[email protected]