As chairman of the Aroostook County Republican Committee, I had the privilege of attending the 2012 Republican State Convention in Augusta this past weekend. Having been around politics for several decades as a traditional conservative Republican legislator and party activist, I would say this was a four-vote political tsunami. The good news is that the Paul organization has clearly not split off from the Republican Party as they have done in the past to run as a third party.
With an initial four-vote margin, the Paul organization was able to capture the key convention offices, and that was the beginning of a sea-change in the Republican Party of Maine, possibly at the national level as well. If anyone ever doubted that “every vote counts,” there should have been no doubt this weekend that grassroots organization, dedicated volunteers and hard work can make a difference.
And it really doesn’t take much to make a difference. For example, based on the last presidential election, Aroostook County Republicans could have sent 373 delegates to the state convention. Forty-seven showed up to the convention caucus.
With the exception of votes requiring a two-thirds majority, this means that a majority of 23 votes at the County level determined the outcome of every vote taken. Although the percentage of potential-to-actual participation may not have been as great in the other 15 Maine counties, the point is made that “all politics is local.”
There were 2,666 certified delegates to the Maine State Convention that officially began at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 5. As a candidate, I arrived about 7:00 a.m. before the doors opened and began shaking hands at the front of the line. By 8:00, I had shaken about 1,000 hands of Paul supporters; only a few Romney supporters. Between 8:00 and 9:00, I had shaken about another 1,000 hands with a significantly diminishing number of Paul supporters and increasing numbers of Romney supporters. By the time I left the line around 9:15 to attend opening ceremonies, there were about 500 people still in line, likely all Romney supporters. Based on my hand-to-hand poll, I was able to suggest to both the Paul and Romney campaigns that the votes would be very close.
And close they were. Following the opening four-vote margin for Convention officers, Paul won vote counts at the Aroostook County level by 1 or 2 votes. On the Convention floor, at some point Saturday afternoon vote counting stopped in favor of a show of hands; this may have been because of challenges that a quorum may not have been present. It was clear that many Romney delegates began to leave the convention Saturday afternoon. There were also other issues related to Rules of Order.
One must not miss the point that the battle of Maine between Paul and Romney was fought using parliamentary procedures; this was not an out-of-control mob throwing bottles or shooting bullets. It’s better to be bored than bombed. We’re a republic, not a banana republic.
This Convention was ultimately not about Maine; it was all about national Republican presidential politics. Maine, Alaska, Nevada and several other states are training wheels for the 2016 presidential nomination for Rand Paul. Taken from this perspective, the Paul organization has decided that taking over the Republican party will be, long-term, more cost-effective than leaving it.
The Democratic party has become collectivist and has polarized on the big government left. If the Paul organization can capture the Republican Party and manage to nurture a limited government coalition between traditional conservative Republicans and libertarians, the reformed Republican Party will capture both the center and the right and this will be good for America — provided the two campaign organizations get totally behind the 2012 Republican nominee for president.
Hayes Gahagan is a former state senator from Aroostook County and currently serves as chairman of the Aroostook County Republican Committee.