AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Republican Party announced Wednesday that it has doubled its full-time staff in an effort to fight back against Democrats who used a strong statewide ground game to recapture legislative majorities in 2012.
Maine GOP Executive Director Jason Savage said Wednesday that the two new hires will be permanent and signal a new direction for the party. His counterpart for the Maine Democratic Party, Executive Director Mary Erin Casale, said building party infrastructure “doesn’t happen overnight” and that the Republicans’ biggest challenge isn’t who they hire but whether voters support their ideology.
“In the past the party has grown in election years and contracted in off years, and then been rebuilt,” said Savage on Wednesday. “What we’re looking to do is put a permanent infrastructure in place. It’s important because we need our party to be strong and standing up for taxpayers and the issues Republicans believe in.”
Both of the party’s new hires are recent college graduates, which Savage said will help attract young voters to the party. However, he said their youth is just a bonus and that they were hired for their abilities.
Ashley Sampson, a 2013 political science graduate from Mount Vernon Nazarene University who has also completed training with the Republican National Committee’s Finance College in Washington, is the Maine GOP’s new finance executive. One of Sampson’s primary responsibilities is shepherding the party’s new “Count ME In” donor program, which seeks to gain small donations from a broad base on a monthly basis. Sampson has been on the job for several weeks.
More recently, the party hired Joe Turcotte as its statewide field director. Turcotte, a 2012 political science graduate of Assumption College, will oversee efforts to rebuild local and county-level Republican committees as well as working with Republican candidates directly. He will also lead the party’s #GEN207 effort, which seeks to pull more young people into the party.
The new hires bring the GOP’s full-time staff to four, compared with 10 who work for the Maine Democratic Party.
The GOP in Maine has been in some level of disarray since last year because of a split between party regulars and an ultra-conservative faction of the party who say they’re upset about being excluded from high-level decisions.
Tension crescendoed in May 2012 when supporters of former presidential candidate Ron Paul showed up en masse at the State Republican Convention, elected their own chairman and attempted to send their own delegates to the National Republican Convention. Those delegates were later barred from voting for Paul at the national convention because of credentialing problems and the national party’s efforts to build consensus support for eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The fracas led party Chairman Charlie Webster to step away from his post shortly after the 2012 election, and in August of this year a dozen active Republicans unenrolled from the party, citing dissatisfaction with Gov. Paul LePage and legislative Republicans.
After being elected in December 2012, the Maine GOP’s Chairman Rich Cebra and Vice Chairwoman Beth O’Connor resigned in June. Cebra cited personal reasons while O’Connor said she was angry about legislative Republicans’ failure to support Gov. Paul LePage ’s veto of a $6.3 billion biennial budget bill that included tax increases.
In July, the party elected former legislator and U.S. Senate candidate Rick Bennett as its chairman. Bennett has made building party unity his focus.
“I’ve been to 15 conventions consecutively since I was a 20-year-old in 1984, and I have never seen this level of disorganization,” Bennett told the Bangor Daily News in May 2012, a little more than a year before he was elected chairman.
Savage said the party is working hard to heal those wounds.
“The current dynamic is one where we know that our opponents are working every year, whether it’s an election year or not, and that we need to do the same,” he said. “We’re planning a 2014 ground game that the Republican Party in Maine has never executed on this level.”
Casale said she sees the Republican hires as an attempt by the party to catch up with Democrats and counter what she said has been a damaging first term for LePage.
“It’s clear they’re trying to professionalize their staff, which is something we’ve done at the party since long before I was on board,” she said. “It’s difficult to sell your brand and your product and have donors who want to give when the governor is out there speaking off the cuff. Until [Republicans’] policies reflect what younger voters and others are concerned about, I don’t know how much of an effect this is going to have.”
Savage said convincing young voters to support Republicans will come naturally.
“We’re going out and showing them that our party is diverse and exciting and that we’re really the party that is looking out for their future,” he said.