Unity is the theme for the state GOP’s annual convention, but it’s a divided party that waits to hear from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a potential 2016 presidential candidate trying to bridge divisions between the establishment and tea party wings.
Many view the invitation for Paul, R-Ky., to speak at the gathering Saturday as the party’s attempt to reach out to libertarian-leaning members. They were angered by their treatment in 2012 after they took over the state convention and elected a majority slate of delegates for Paul’s father, Ron, a former GOP congressman from Texas and presidential candidate.
Establishment Republicans challenged that decision and the national committee voted to replace half of Maine’s delegates for Paul with supporters of Mitt Romney, the party’s presidential nominee.
Rand Paul’s White House ambitions for 2016 — and Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election prospects — may depend on whether the freshman senator can help mend internal divisions.
No state may point out Paul’s challenge more than Maine.
He hopes to promote further party unity ahead of the November re-election test for LePage, considered one of most endangered Republican governors in the nation.
At the same time, Paul is pushing to strengthen his appeal beyond his father’s passionate supporters to prove he can be a credible national candidate.
“The Republican Party will adapt, evolve or die,” Paul said Friday at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics as he worked to build new alliances with mainstream Republicans in Boston.
Before the speech, Paul attended a private luncheon hosted by top Romney advisers. Romney’s former national finance chairman Spencer Zwick arranged a private audience of just a dozen key members of Romney’s inner circle.
“This was meant to be a real discussion with people that I view can be very helpful,” Zwick told The Associated Press, adding that Paul “was very well received” during an hour-and-a-half discussion about policy and politics over salad and fresh fruit.
Paul should expect his Maine audience to be larger and rowdier.
After two tumultuous conventions that revealed cracks in the Maine GOP, party leaders are trying to build a strong, unified base that will ensure four more years for LePage, who rode tea party support to victory in 2010.
In the wake of the delegate fight, tensions have cooled, but hurt feelings remain — and will even after Rand Paul’s appearance.
“Paul is going to leave Maine and what happens within the party is still going to be there,” said Vic Berardelli, chairman of the Maine Republican Liberty Caucus.
But Paul also provides an opportunity to bridge the gaps between the different factions with a message that appeals more broadly than his father’s, members of the party say.
Over the past year, Paul has stood alongside Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in places such as New Hampshire and Michigan as the national party works to smooth over internal divisions and strengthen its appeal among young people and minorities.
Paul has helped fellow Republicans across the political spectrum raise money, as he is expected to do Saturday for Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who is widely considered a moderate.