AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the Waldo County GOP Committee voted Tuesday evening to recommend a censure of Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster for his handling of the party’s presidential caucuses.
Raymond St. Onge, who leads the Waldo County GOP, said the initial motion was to call for a vote of no confidence in Webster and a recommendation that he step down from his post. That motion was amended to recommend a censure instead. The amended motion passed by a strong majority, St. Onge said.
The censure recommendation will be taken up at the state GOP committee meeting on March 10. A censure is essentially a nonbinding but public slap on the wrist.
Webster is under fire for his handling of the Republican caucuses, particularly Saturday’s announcement that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had narrowly defeated Texas Congressman Ron Paul in the state’s presidential preference poll.
When the announcement was made on Saturday, a number of communities — including all of Washington County — had not held caucuses and their results were not counted. Additionally, Waldo County Republicans discovered that some of the county’s votes were not counted either, even though most communities there caucused well before the Feb. 11 deadline.
St. Onge said he sent the Waldo County poll results to the state party on Feb. 7. When he asked party officials why those votes were not included in the results announced Saturday, St. Onge said he was told it was a clerical error.
Waterville also was omitted from the results, even though the city also caucused early.
“What I tell people is: I’m not going to fire or discipline my staff for clerical errors,” Webster said Wednesday, acknowledging that mistakes were made.
Webster has said that the state party committee will discuss the caucus process at the March 10 meeting, but he doesn’t believe that including all state votes will change the outcome. He also has said that he will not release updated numbers until that March meeting.
“The bigger discussion will be about whether we should do this type of caucus again,” the GOP chairman said.
Including Waldo County’s numbers would add a couple dozen votes to Paul, but the margin of victory announced Saturday was 194 votes. Washington County Republicans would have to be strong for Paul in order for him to overtake Romney.
St. Onge said he doesn’t have a strong opinion on whether Webster should step down but said he hopes the media chaos ends soon.
Webster said he has been around long enough to weather criticism and calls for his resignation.
“If people were saying ‘he can’t raise money, he can’t raise candidates or he doesn’t speak for the party,’ then I’d consider it,” he said. “That’s not the case here.”
The state Republican party chairman in Iowa stepped down in the wake of a similar controversy earlier this year. Iowa initially awarded its caucus win to Romney only to discover about two weeks later that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum actually had won.