LEWISTON, Maine — The Maine Democratic Party accused Maine Republicans on Wednesday of shady recruiting methods in the GOP’s quest to find candidates to challenge incumbent Democrats in the state Legislature, including one House District seat in Lewiston.
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant pointed to three House District races, including for District 59, as evidence Republicans were “rigging” their recruitment efforts by coercing candidates to run and getting candidates to relocate or simply seek seats in districts where they are not residents.
In Lewiston, Democrats claim James Sorcek, the Republican challenger to incumbent state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, a Democrat, moved into House District 59 just nine days before he was nominated by a local GOP caucus to run.
Sorcek is also the Lewiston city chairman for the Republican Party.
Oddly, Sorcek is listing his new address as 135 Hogan Road, the same address as that of former state Rep. Stavros Mendros, the chairman of the Androscoggin County Republicans.
Mendros’ wife, Cynthia Mendros, had been the Republican placeholder for the House District 59 race prior to Sorcek’s entry into the race.
On Wednesday, Stavros Mendros said Sorcek, who also works for the Maine GOP, was renting a room from him but was still at work at the Republican Party’s offices in Auburn.
“We’ve got a spare room and he does live here,” Mendros said.
Sorcek previously listed his address as 20 Tall Pines Drive in Lewiston, which is in House District 60. Mendros said Sorcek was renting an efficiency apartment but moved in with him to save money.
Mendros said because of their involvement with the Republican Party, he and Sorcek were often meeting at Mendros’ home anyway, so it made sense for Sorcek to move in.
Mendros also said Sorcek had no expectation he could defeat Rotundo, a popular incumbent.
“Even he knows he’s not going to beat Peggy,” Mendros said. “No one else was interested in running so he agreed to do it. There’s no big, smoking gun here.”
An attempt to reach Sorcek by phone Wednesday was unsuccessful. The phone number Sorcek listed on his candidate filing information had been disconnected.
Grant, the Democratic Party chairman, said Republicans were playing fast and loose with candidates all over Maine and while they touted a “full slate” of House candidates during a news conference in July, the truth was they were barely able to find candidates to run against incumbent Democrats.
Meanwhile, nearly 40 percent of the incumbent Republicans in the House decided not to seek re-election, Grant said.
“The Maine GOP put on quite a show to announce their full slate of candidates, but it seems like just a sham,” Grant said.
Grant blamed the GOP’s recruitment issues on “LePage fatigue.”
“Rather than play by the rules, the GOP decided to engage in desperate measures to get names on the ballot,” Grant said. “This doesn’t bode well for the Republican Party or their chances of winning any seats back in November. It also reflects very poorly on Paul LePage and his divisive behavior that has alienated members of his own party.”
David Sorensen, a spokesman for the Maine GOP, referred comment on the party’s recruitment drive to another individual who Sorensen said had better details about the GOP’s House candidate recruitment efforts.
On July 29, House Republicans held a State House news conference announcing they had fielded 150 candidates for the 151 Districts that were up for election.
Sorensen, who also served as the communications director for House Republicans during the past lawmaking session, said the news conference was not a party event.
“My knowledge of these circumstances is limited and the press conference referenced below was put on by the House GOP caucus, not the state party,” Sorensen wrote in an email to the Sun Journal.
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, the House Republican leader, responded with a statement to the Sun Journal later Wednesday.
“House Republicans are proud of the quality of candidates we have running this year. The Democrats’ failure to come anywhere near recruiting the number of candidates we did has led them to attack these dedicated Mainers that stepped up to run,” Fredette said in a prepared statement. “At the end of the day, Republicans are fully ready and willing to challenge the status quo that 40 years of Democrat rule in Augusta has established. Democrats see that slipping away with this slate of candidates, so they are stooping to attacks.”
Grant also pointed to a newspaper report from the Journal Tribune that quoted a Republican candidate who said she was withdrawing from a State House race in Saco as more proof the GOP was stretching to get candidates in all 151 House Districts.
Grant said Daphne Warren was recruited to run as a Republican in House District 14 just one day before the State House news conference and, according to the newspaper, Warren said she made a snap decision and later said she would withdraw her name.
The report also stated it was unclear whether a party caucus was held to nominate Warren and the Republican Party chairwoman in Saco told the newspaper she did not know Warren.
Grant also noted a Bangor Daily News report from Belfast that showed a GOP candidate for House District 97, Ben Bryant, didn’t live in the district.
The BDN reported that Bryant had defeated Tom Burpee in a Republican primary but when GOP leaders learned Bryant didn’t actually live in the district, they asked Burpee to take the ballot position and Burpee refused.
“It’s not a party of ideas anymore,” Burpee told the BDN. “It’s a party of conformity.”
Abigail Curtis of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this report.