Activists from the Maine Tea Party can largely be credited with Gov. Paul LePage’s election in 2010. And Maine supporters of libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul took over the state’s Republican convention in May and chose a slate of Paul supporters as Maine’s delegates to the National Republican Convention next month in Florida.
But the Republican nominee for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat, Charlie Summers, seems unlikely to benefit from the energy of those two segments of the Republican party, which have played a growing role in Maine Republican politics in recent years.
Summers, Maine’s secretary of state, prevailed in a six-way Republican primary last month and is facing Democrat Cynthia Dill and three independents, including former Gov. Angus King, in the race to replace retiring Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe.
“Certainly out of the candidates running, Charlie Summers is the best one running, but not somebody I’m getting behind or endorsing,” said Brent Tweed, a Paul supporter from North Berwick who was elected chairman of this year’s state Republican convention. “Right now, there are a lot of important issues, and I don’t really hear anybody talking about them.”
Tweed said he’s concerned he hasn’t heard more about serious deficit reduction and returning the United States to a “non-interventionist foreign policy.”
“When we do get involved overseas,” he said, “we need to follow the Constitution and actually declare war before going to war.”
Activists who have been involved in Paul’s presidential campaign and the Maine Tea Party say they’re more likely to vote for Summers in November than any other candidate, but not with a level of enthusiasm that would motivate them to get involved in his election efforts.
“I’m certainly not going to vote for Angus King or the Democrat,” said Pete Harring of Auburn, who founded the Maine Tea Party and runs a Maine Tea Party website. “That doesn’t leave me much of an alternative, does it? Basically, that’s what it boils down to.”
While Tea Party members don’t have an ideal choice on the ballot in November, Harring said they’ll stay involved in Republican politics and remain focused on their long-term objectives.
“Many Tea Party and Ron Paul people have put ourselves into the structure of the Maine Republican Party with a long-term goal of getting good, constitutional, liberty-minded people,” he said. “In order to do that, you need to maintain a Republican presence.”
For his part, Summers said he’s not sensing a significant enthusiasm deficit among Republicans.
“I think that the party is incredibly enthusiastic,” he said. “The perspective which I come from, I think, is much more in line with the average working-class person whether they consider themselves to be a member of the Republican Party, the tea party, the Ron Paul faction.”
While Summers has the vote of Eric Brakey, the former Maine state director for Paul’s campaign said he’d be more excited about the Republican Senate candidate if he supported a full audit of the Federal Reserve and favored bringing all U.S. troops home from overseas.
“We’re not judging Charlie Summers based on his personality,” Brakey said. “We’re judging him on the issues. If he does come and meet us on those issues, I would be happy to support him.”
Summers said he’s open to a full audit of the Federal Reserve, a move supported by Paul as a way to bring more transparency to the country’s monetary policy. But he said job creation and government spending come first on his agenda.
“Once we tackle those issues, I think we move to No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, on down the line,” he said. “There’s obviously a myriad of issues and concerns to deal with.”
But bringing all U.S. troops home from overseas assignments is a separate matter, said Summers, who serves in the U.S. Navy Reserve and has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s bring all the troops home,’” he said. “It’s a much different thing to actually effect that and do it in a way that doesn’t jeopardize our national security interests.”
For Maine state Rep. Aaron Libby, a Waterboro Republican and Paul supporter, bringing the troops home is a financial matter.
“We can’t afford it,” he said. “The country’s broke, and we’re putting this debt on future generations.”
While Libby will vote for Summers, he said, “I’m probably not going to be too involved in the race.”
And if Summers succeeds in November, Harring said, “we’ll see what happens with him, and if he doesn’t cut the mustard, then we’ll get rid of him in six years.”