With the 2020 elections over, and Democrats having secured yet another majority in Augusta in both chambers, it’s far past time for Maine Republicans to start planning for the 2022 elections. The president’s party tends to do poorly in midterm elections, and now that Joe Biden has been declared the winner, Maine Republicans face the golden opportunity of a midterm election cycle in the opposition. The last time they faced this situation, in 2010, Republicans not only won back the Blaine House but also took full control of the Legislature. If they have any hope of repeating that performance, they’ll need to address some serious issues first – both nationally and here in Maine.

At every level of government, both parties missed prime opportunities thanks to a massive failure of polling – both the internal and public polls. Here in Maine, at the federal level, Dale Crafts barely lost to 2nd District congressional incumbent Jared Golden, getting 47 percent of the vote to Golden’s 53 percent, when public polls suggested Crafts would lose by double digits. One would hope that internal party polls would be better, but the National Republican Congressional Committee didn’t spend anywhere near the amount it did in 2018, suggesting that its internals saw similar numbers as the public polls. That’s a shame, because all over the country Republicans won districts that are far more Democratic than Maine’s 2nd. If the NRCC internals had been on target, they might’ve been more effective in allocating resources nationwide, and ended up gaining even more seats in the House.

The polls’ inaccuracy was a problem not only in the 2nd District, but also in the U.S. Senate race, where Sara Gideon appeared to have the edge in public polling but ended up losing easily to incumbent Susan Collins. The internal polls were more on the mark for both parties, but none of them saw Collins’ 9-point victory. In the Senate race, that represented a 14-point gap between the final polling average and the actual outcome. If the polling of the presidential race nationally had been that far off, Donald Trump would have ended up winning the popular vote by 7 points and likely cruised to an easy re-election.

When the cycle began, it seemed that Maine Republicans would enjoy an advantage on the Senate side. They’d recruited what seemed to be a strong slate of candidates, including several experienced elected officials who were good fits, both politically and personally, for their district. Some of these candidates did relatively well, even while losing. Others vastly underperformed. Had the election been a gigantic Democratic wave, as it was in 2012, that would be understandable, but it wasn’t: Here in Maine, as all over the country, Biden had hardly any coattails. Maine Republicans, for the most part, didn’t lose seats just because Trump lost; they won or lost on their own merits, both as individual candidates and as a caucus. Since Senate Republicans ended up not only losing seats to the Democrats overall, but also seeing their own leader lose his race, that suggests they need to thoroughly re-examine their campaign operations – even if their candidate recruitment was excellent.

On the Maine House side, Republicans did surprisingly well, picking up more than 10 seats and significantly narrowing the gap. That’s an impressive gain, and they have every right to be proud of the campaign they ran. It was a tough year for any candidate, deducing how to navigate the pandemic without giving up on campaigning entirely, but many House Republicans figured it out. Republicans not only gained seats overall, but a number of incumbents also significantly increased their margin of victory compared to last cycle.

The biggest problem for House Republicans was not just that they didn’t recruit candidates for every single district, but also that they set a new record for uncontested seats. That left House Democrats at a distinct advantage from the beginning, regardless how the campaign went.

If the Maine Republican Party wants to have any hope of capturing the majority in 2022, House and Senate Republicans need to do a better job not just learning from each other, but also working together. That goes for the entire party, including local party committees and whoever ends up running for governor. They all need to work together to recruit candidates, to campaign, to raise funds and to organize. That will be no small task, to be sure, but that’s why they need to start now. 2022 may well end up being a wave year for the party, but Maine Republicans need to be ready to ride the wave.

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

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