Nearly two dozen Maine delegates are headed to Cleveland this week for a Republican National Convention where Donald Trump will attempt to unify a party torn by political infighting.

But while some are excited to be a part of political history, others remain unenthusiastic about a candidate they consider less presidential than the Maine caucus winner, Sen. Ted Cruz, but still a better choice than Democrat Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, other concerns hang over a convention shadowed by the threat of violence from anti-Trump protesters outside and potentially dogged by intraparty jockeying inside the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

“I think there are going to be protests to the point of violence, and I don’t have a good feeling about it,” said Earl Bierman, one of Maine’s 23 delegates to the Republican National Convention and a leader of Cruz’s campaign in the state. As for inside the convention walls, Bierman said he hopes the delegates get the job done of nominating Trump without too much political strife.

“At this late point in the game, I don’t think it’s healthy and is not a good thing for anybody,” he said.

Trump will have to overcome lukewarm support – if not outright opposition – from a substantial contingent of the 2,470 Republican delegates convening in Cleveland for a four-day convention intended to unify the party behind the New York billionaire and against Clinton.

Trump enters the Republican National Convention having won 1,543 delegates at state primaries and caucuses, well above the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination. And a last-ditch effort among so-called “Never Trump” delegates failed late Thursday after members of the convention’s Rules Committee quashed an effort to “unbind” delegates who are bound by state or national party rules to cast their votes for the controversial candidate.


For some Maine delegates, the chance to stand on the floor of the Republican National Convention as a delegate is not to be missed, even if Trump was not their first choice.

“I’m excited for the experience and I’m honored that (Republicans) elected me” as a delegate, said Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan.


Maine’s delegation to the RNC is composed almost entirely of Cruz supporters elected by party faithful during the state party’s convention in June. One of the two avowed Trump supporters among the state’s 23 delegates, Gov. Paul LePage, has said he does not plan to attend the convention.

Cruz, a Texas senator, won 46 percent of the votes cast in Maine’s Republican caucuses in May, compared to Trump’s 33 percent. But Cruz failed to win a majority, meaning he secured only 12 of the state’s 23 delegates, with Trump locking up nine and Ohio Gov. John Kasich winning two. And because Maine is one of the states that require delegates to follow the outcome of their state primaries or caucuses on the first round of voting in Cleveland, nine of those Cruz supporters are “bound” to supporting Trump.

Among them is state Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican heavily involved in an unsuccessful libertarian insurrection, of sorts, at the 2012 Republican National Convention.


This year, Brakey is steering clear of the “Never Trump” movement led by Cruz supporters and their push to upend the voting process in Cleveland. Like Bierman, Brakey said Trump won the nomination fairly.

“I don’t really have much of a stake in that competition (between Trump and Cruz), but I do think for the health of the democratic process we should be advocating for playing by the same rules that were in place when the people voted,” Brakey said. “Personally, Donald Trump was not my choice – my choice was always Sen. Rand Paul. Would I have preferred to have someone else as the nominee? Yes, absolutely. But that being said, the people voted and people were selected to serve as delegates on the basis of the understanding that they were going to be bound.”


Four years ago, Maine’s delegation to the Republican National Convention was at the center of a controversy that became one of the few unscripted moments of the 2012 Republican pep rally in Tampa.

Supporters of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul – an icon of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party – took control over the Maine State Republican Convention and elected a largely pro-Paul slate of delegates to Tampa. Supporters of Mitt Romney, who had won the state caucuses, challenged the proceedings with the Republican National Committee and won, resulting in half of Maine’s Paul delegates being replaced with Romney supporters and preventing Paul from securing enough states to land a prime-time speaking slot at the convention.

Members of Maine’s delegation tried to contest the decision on the floor of the convention hall, only to have their microphone turned off. In response, many in Maine’s delegation walked off the floor with clothespins on their noses and led a protest march – joined by dozens more Paul delegates from Texas, Iowa and other states – around the corridor of the convention hall.


In some ways, the 2012 fight foreshadowed the divisions within the ranks of grassroots Republican voters that have led millions to cast ballots for Trump despite the party establishment’s clear opposition to him during the primaries. Yet Thursday’s lengthy RNC Rules Committee exchanges between the “Never Trump” camp and Trump’s supporters highlighted the lingering divisions headed into the full convention.

“This problem, this angst as we will see in a few days isn’t going to go away simply because we paper over it with rules,” said U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who wanted to unbind delegates from supporting Trump. “So I say to Mr. Trump and those aligned with him: make the case … that they should use their voice to support him. Don’t make the case that their voices should be silenced. That’s not going to help.”

One of Maine’s current representatives to the Republican National Committee’s Rules Committee, Alex Willette of Lewiston, opposed Thursday night’s attempt to “unbind” delegates because he believed it would “make winning in November nearly impossible for anyone that would step into Mr. Trump’s shoes.”

A former lawmaker who is Maine’s committeeman serving on the Republican National Committee, Willette blamed “media speculation” for much of the talk about potential chaos within the convention hall among delegates. And he believes Trump’s selection Friday of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate will only solidify support because Pence brings “insider experience” in both Congress and a governor’s office.

“What you’re seeing is the Republican family is finally starting to come together after a long, drawn-out nominating process,” Willette said. “And it does take some time.”



Other members of Maine’s delegation are headed to Cleveland not knowing exactly what to expect.

Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, who is the assistant minority leader in the Maine House, is among the many first-time convention-goers headed to Cleveland.

Espling, a Cruz supporter during the caucuses, said she believes Maine Republicans wanted her to cast her delegate ballot for the Texas senator at the national convention. But since Cruz has dropped out of the race, she’s torn on what the right choice should be.

“I feel like I was voted on as a Cruz delegate but Cruz hasn’t stuck it out,” Espling said. “So how long do you raise that banner and go for Cruz when Cruz isn’t really doing that himself?”

Espling said the biggest concern she’s heard from her constituents is their fear of physical violence from possible protests over the nomination of Trump. She’s not particularly fearful, however, and believes the Republican National Committee will take all the steps necessary to keep the convention safe for participants.

Bierman, the Cruz campaign leader who serves as chief of staff in the Maine House Republican office, did not support the “Never Trump” camp’s efforts to upend the nomination.

“For me as far as the work of the convention, I’m just going to go out there, slog through it and come home,” he said. “If Cruz was the (nominee), I wouldn’t want Trump supporters to do what some Cruz supporters are trying to do. He won.”

But first-time attendee Jennifer Newendyke, 21, was less interested in a seeing a Trump pep rally among party loyalists who remain deeply divided over the presumptive nominee. A Cruz supporter, Newendyke would prefer a debate.

“I would like to see it get to the floor. I don’t think there is any harm in discussing our options,” said Newendyke, of Litchfield. “I think this year is so out-of-the-ordinary and people are so unhappy that I don’t know if a floor debate is going to make it any worse as far as perceptions of the party.”

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