After years of the Maine Republican Party labeling itself the “party of the majority” because it held the Blaine House and some part of the Legislature, Republicans woke to a harsh new reality on Wednesday. With the blue wave firmly coming ashore in Maine, Democrats ended up in full control in Augusta for the first time in almost a decade. In the Legislature, they grew their majorities by a significant margin in both chambers — and not just by picking up open seats, but also by defeating longtime incumbents as well. Governor-elect Janet Mills won’t be able to simply pass a budget on a two-thirds basis without any bipartisan support, but she could ram through a partisan budget on a majority vote if she so wished.

Now the Maine GOP needs to do some serious soul-searching. They have a number of major decisions to make soon, including not only leadership elections in the House — the Senate already held theirs — but the leadership of the state party as well. It’s important, as they do so, that they not only acknowledge the disastrous failures this election cycle — and there were plenty, to be sure — but also take a look at the few successes.

It wasn’t just a failure for Republicans, after all: independents took a beating this year as well. In the 1st Congressional District, independent Marty Grohman finished a distant third behind Republican Mark Holbrook and Democrat Chellie Pingree, not even able to break in to the double digits. This came despite support from much of the Republican establishment and weeks of claims that he was the only candidate with any hope of defeating Pingree.

In the gubernatorial race, independent Terry Hayes didn’t get much traction, either, even with a competent campaign and a thoughtful platform. Voters weren’t much in the mood for independents not named Angus King this year — none of them broke out of single digits in the major races.

All of this shows that after eight years of Gov. Paul LePage and two years of President Donald Trump, Mainers were certainly ready for a change, and not a symbolic one. It wasn’t enough to simply switch from a controversial conservative to a more conventional candidate. Voters not only rejected any possibility of continuing LePage’s policies, but they also rejected Republicans who made their name opposing him on any number of issues. They voted against both wings of the Maine GOP at once: the more traditional establishment Republicans and the firebrand conservatives.

Republicans who were successful in targeted races (or nearly so) in a terrible year for the party had a number of traits in common: They were inevitably well-known locally but also hard-working, well-organized candidates. It’s easy to assume if you’re well-liked in your hometown that you can do well politically without doing the work, but it isn’t always the case — or if it is, it doesn’t work forever. Often, voters will see these candidates coming a mile away and reject them out of hand, sensing that their heart isn’t truly in it.

As the Maine GOP makes the switch from having at least a share of power in Augusta to being a pure opposition party, it’s important that Republicans remember both parts of that equation.

They can’t simply always engage in endless ideological warfare, constantly attacking Mills and the Democrats as if the campaign never ended. Now that the election is over, Mainers expect the politicians in Augusta to sit down and do the hard work of governing rather than continue the endless partisan sniping. That’s likely a big part of the reason why voters ended divided government and handed Democrats control.

However, the people of Maine did not totally embrace the progressive agenda, either. Not only did the universal home care entitlement proposed through Question 1 fail, but Democrats could have won a much wider majority in the Maine House than they did. That shows that voters are willing to be persuaded by Republicans again — if they do the work. So Republicans shouldn’t completely surrender to Democrats any more than they should be fighting them all the time. They need to be both well-known and well-organized.

It’s not easy, but the GOP should offer thoughtful, organized opposition when it’s necessary, and show a willingness to work together when it isn’t.

If Republican legislators can do that, while the state party sets its sights on getting organized for the next election behind the scenes, then 2018 might end up just being a bump in the road rather than an expanding sinkhole.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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