AUGUSTA — Establishment Republicans came together Monday to support Rep. Patrick Flood in his bid to be the party nominee in Senate District 21.

Flood, of Winthrop, defeated Ryan Wheaton of West Gardiner 214 to 130 at a packed caucus at the Augusta Civic Center.

In a speech before the vote, Flood emphasized his experience as House chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which writes the state budget.

“I’m very good at finding a way to get to yes,” he said. “I deliver budgets that can pass.”

Wheaton, a small-business owner and teacher, challenged Flood because he wanted to provide a more conservative choice for central Maine Republicans.

“If our party’s not built on conservative values, who are we?” he said.

Wheaton said party leaders asked him numerous times to drop out of the race because they did not think he could win in a moderate district. He also criticized Flood for using the Maine Clean Election Act fund to pay for his campaign.

The vacancy was created when Sen. Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner, dropped out of the race in June. Flood now faces Democrat David Bustin of Hallowell, a former mayor of that city and state lawmaker who served in Gov. Joseph Brennan’s administration in the 1980s.

McCormick nominated Flood to the post, saying Flood can win in the district. McCormick said the GOP nominee must get votes from independents to win.

“This seat could mean the difference to remaining in the majority,” he said. “While it is tempting to make a statement, there is too much at stake.”

The caucus highlighted differences within the Republican Party, with establishment Republicans backing Flood — including House Speaker Robert Nutting — and Christian activists and Ron Paul supporters behind Wheaton. The Christian Civic League sent out several emails urging local Republicans to attend the caucus and Nutting put out a Sunday night statement in support of Flood.

“Pat Flood has been an extraordinary leader in the Maine Legislature and has served the people of his House district very well,” Nutting wrote. “He has led our state through difficult budgetary times and oversaw the largest tax cut in Maine history.”

Nutting attended the caucus, as did Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Senate Majority Leader Jonathan Courtney, R-Springvale, who is running for Congress in the 1st District against U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

Wheaton said he challenged Flood because he wanted to offer district voters a more conservative choice. In 2009, Flood voted to support same-sex marriage while a member of the House and he has voted against legislation that attempted to restrict abortions in Maine. Wheaton is opposed to same-sex marriage and is anti-abortion.

Flood has served eight years in the House and is House chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He is prevented by term limits from continuing to serve in the House, but is eligible to serve in the Senate.

During the last 10 years, Republicans held the seat for six years, all by McCormick, and Democrats had it for four. Senate District 21 includes Chelsea, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hallowell, Litchfield, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, Randolph, West Gardiner and Winthrop.

The seat would be an important hold for Republicans, who are seeking to preserve their majority in the chamber, which is currently 19-15-1.

Flood said he hopes that Republicans can stick together to win in November, mostly to focus on economic issues.

“I’m not fond of politics that divide us,” he said.

Susan Cover — 621-5643

[email protected]

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