Divided Maine GOP to choose leader to replace Webster; Mendros candidate for vice chair

AUGUSTA (AP) — Maine Republicans are hoping to put a period of internal turmoil behind them when they elect a new state party leader this weekend.

The GOP state committee meets Saturday in Augusta to choose between two candidates for the party chairmanship: Rich Cebra, who's completed four years as state representative from Naples, and Beth O'Connor of Berwick, who lost her bid for a second House term this November.

The winner will replace Charlie Webster, who was credited for engineering sweeping Republican gains in 2010, but later led a party tarnished by unproven voter fraud charges, weakened by a gaping rift between party factions and set back by big losses in State House, U.S. Senate and congressional races in this fall's elections.

Campaigning has been intense in the days leading up to Saturday's chairmanship, said state committee member Vic Berardelli of Newburgh, a Cebra supporter who's been getting an average of four or five calls per day on behalf of the candidates.

The election features a party mainstreamer in Cebra and longtime Ron Paul supporter in O'Connor. But Berardelli and other party activists say the race is more complicated than a runoff to decide whether the party is controlled by Ron Paul followers or more traditional GOP forces.

"We're looking for a leader who's going to bring the various factions together," said Berardelli.

Matt McDonald of Belfast, a "liberty activist" who went to the GOP national convention as a Paul delegate but lost his seat when the party awarded half of Maine's delegates to Mitt Romney, is urging committee members to support O'Connor, although he will not be on the state committee soon enough to vote.

But McDonald said that all liberty activists won't necessarily flock to O'Connor's side, just as all establishment Republicans aren't a slam dunk for Cebra. If there's one unifying factor among the committee members, it's the belief that "it's time for Charlie Webster to move on," said McDonald.

O'Connor plays down her longtime support of Ron Paul and reached out to all factions of the GOP, including so-called mainstreamers, tea party members and Paul supporters. Her willingness to listen is what makes her the best candidate, said O'Connor, who has chaired Maine Taxpayers United, which pushed for lower taxes.

"I think I will be a good leader because I have a lot of patience," said O'Connor.

"There are a lot of ideological differences" within the party, she acknowledged. "I think we have to put aside those differences and work together."

Cebra, contacted by email, wrote, "Out of respect for the state committee, the intraparty nature of the issue, and the overall party process, I don't believe it would be appropriate for me to comment at this time." Cebra said he would comment after Saturday's vote.

His website says Cebra was a member of the 2008 Maine Republican Platform Committee, is a former member of the Maine Republican State Committee and was elected in 2008 as the Cumberland County Republican Committee chairman.

He has also picked up an endorsement from one of Maine's most prominent Republicans, Gov. Paul LePage.

"Rich has a commitment to the grassroots, an understanding of the Legislative process, a core belief in small business which drives Maine's economy and he strongly supports the principles which unite us. I hope you will join me in supporting him," said a letter from the governor to GOP committee members.

Candidates mentioned for vice chair include Stavros Mendros of Lewistion, a Ron Paul supporter, and Traci Gauthier, who's been executive director of the Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce in Penobscot County.

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Rick Jackson's picture

Somewhere in this comment:

Somewhere in this comment:
"Out of respect for the state committee, the intraparty nature of the issue, and the overall party process, I don't believe it would be appropriate for me to comment at this time.", Rich seems to display an attitude that is completely inept of understanding how the process works. Any registered Republican can go to the county committee, vote for a state committee member to represent them and then contact that member to discuss support for a party leader/chairman. Thus, Rich ignores the fact that communicating to the mass media is a great way to communicate to tens of thousands of voters, who are Republicans, and his potential constituent base. The "party process" should be one of open dialogue, transparency and the availability of a party leader to comment on such a mundane issue. The GOP can do better, and needs to, if they are going to develop a message to take to Augusta. I wish all well, and wish more thought in comments such as this were placed beforehand.

 's picture

I hope no one...

...replaces Charlie Webster's attitude.

RONALD RIML's picture

Will the Party Chairperson

Inherit Charlie Webster's "Intelligence Network" which supplied him with the information concerning the multitude of UBV's* spotted in rural Maine??

These UBV's* - according to Charlie - allegedly stole the election in Maine for Obama. How could we miss them as Obama carried the state by over 100,000 votes??

*Unidentified Black Voters


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