AUGUSTA — Richard Cebra, who has served four terms as a state representative, was elected Saturday to lead Maine Republicans as the party sought to move on from recent setbacks and set the stage for the 2014 election.
Cebra, of Naples, became the lone candidate after rival Beth O'Connor dropped out shortly before the vote in an expression of party unity. O'Connor, of Berwick, went on to win a three-way race for vice chair.
"I'm real honored to be elected the chairman of the Maine Republican Party by unanimous, single ballot," Cebra told reporters after the vote, which took place behind closed doors. "Beth O'Connor is a fantastic example of a strong Republican. She really came here to unite the party, as I did, and I think in that action she really made a fantastic step forward in uniting the party. And we are now the most united party in the state of Maine."
Cebra replaces Charlie Webster, who helped engineer sweeping Republican gains in 2010 but later led a divided party.
Besides his eight years in the Legislature, Cebra has served as chairman of the Cumberland County GOP Committee. He was considered the establishment candidate.
O'Connor is a longtime Ron Paul supporter. The party became divided during its state convention in May when Paul supporters took over the event from mainstream Republicans and elected a slate of Ron Paul delegates to the national convention.
The party also has been tarnished by unproven voter fraud charges leveled by Webster and election losses that cost it state legislative control and U.S. Senate and House seats.
Republicans appeared determined to put those setbacks behind them as they went into Saturday's voting at the Augusta City Center.
"We've got a really broad coalition in this room," said Cebra. "We've got a diverse bunch of people who are all committed to working together as a united party, and that's the direction we're going to continue to work in." He said his top priority as leader is to help GOP candidates win in 2014.
Cebra had received an endorsement from Republican Gov. Paul LePage before Saturday's vote.
In the race for vice chair, O'Connor defeated Stavros Mendros, a Ron Paul supporter from Lewiston, and Traci Gauthier, who has been executive director of the Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce in Penobscot County.